Oran heads to final four
THAYER - Oran catcher Joey Williams spent much of Friday afternoon looking up at the sizeable Thayer hitters as he called pitches behind the plate.
But Oran's 5-foot-7 cleanup hitter delivered the biggest blow of the day, driving a single up the middle in the bottom of the seventh to score Trevor Irwin with the winning run in an improbable 9-8 victory against Thayer in a Class 1 state quarterfinal game.
Williams' hit capped a four-run rally that saw Oran twice come within one strike from elimination in the state tournament.
Instead the Eagles will play Bevier (16-1) 11 a.m. Wednesday afternoon at Taylor Stadium on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia in a state semifinal game.
Oran (22-3) will make its third straight trip to the final four. The Thayer Bobcats (18-5) were left in shock after seeing an 8-2 lead evaporate in two innings.
"We always say 'Ten runs up or 10 runs down, don't quit,'" Oran coach Mitch Wood said. "We tried to stay positive. I can't say I'm not surprised but we did it all year."
This time, however, Oran did it against a team that was bigger, was hitting well and was not squandering chances.
The Eagles, on the other hand, left nine runners on base over the first six innings and had been shut down for four frames after scoring two in the first. They had second and third with one out on three occasions and failed to score a run.
"I thought the difference in the ballgame was the runners we left on base," Wood said.
But when it looked like Oran was doomed with ace pitcher Matt Seyer knocked out during a four-run sixth inning for Thayer - "I was real worried," said Williams - the Eagles came back.
Trailing 8-2, they scored three in the bottom of the sixth. Brent Graviett's single drove in one run, and Irwin was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to score another.
With the bases loaded and none out, though, Oran could get only one more run when Andrew Eckman snared Garrett Roslen's liner to left for a sacrifice fly.
"I thought that would be the game-saving play," Thayer coach Matt Pitts said.
"That left fielder made a heck of a catch," Wood said.
Chase Seyer, who replaced Matt Seyer in the top of the sixth, pitched out of his own trouble in the seventh as Thayer left a runner on third base for the second straight inning. Chase Seyer ended up with the win and improved to 6-0 on the season.
Thayer starter Anthony Martin also left the game after six innings, having run out of innings for the week. He had pitched the final four as Thayer rallied from an 8-0 deficit to post an 18-8 win in the sectional game against Valley of Caledonia.
Thayer's Aaron Henry retired two of the first three batters he faced in the seventh, walking Austin Dumey after striking out Chase Seyer and retiring Craig Friga. No. 9 hitter Brent Graviett walked on a 3-2 pitch.
Matt Seyer drove in a run with a 3-2 single up the middle and a bobble in the outfield put runners on second and third. Irwin drove in two with a game-tying hit and another bobble allowed Irwin to reach second.
Roslen was intentionally walked to set up Williams, who had struck out three times and was hit by a pitch.
"There was no one else I'd rather have up there than J-Will," Wood said. "He was stroking the baseball all year, and I was eager for him to get up there."
"It was nerve-racking," Williams said. "I was thinking about my previous strikeouts. I just wanted to hit the ball and keep us in the game. He gave me a fastball inside, and I went with the pitch."
Williams was a part of Oran's state tournament team from a year ago, a factor that may have paid off in the end.
"It came down to the fact they've been here before," Pitts said. "They played the last two innings like they had to play. They hit the ball when they had to hit it, right in the hole."
On the day, Thayer outhit Oran 12-8 and had four extra-base hits -- including Martin's solo home run -- to Oran's one.
"They hit the ball as I thought they would," Wood said. "They're huge kids. They're a football school."
But with freshman Chase Seyer picking up the win after a rough day at the plate and diminutive Williams ending the day on a high note, Oran proved size doesn't matter in baseball. "We played hard," Wood said, "and we didn't quit."