Opportunistic Oran still alive
COLUMBIA - Friday's Class 1 state final between Oran and Thayer was filled with the kind of intrigue that makes a classic playoff game.
Pitchers probed the strike zone and jabbed at the hitters' weaknesses. Managers employed gamesmanship to lobby about balks.
The pressure was palpable in several key at-bats throughout the game.
And, to top it off, the Oran Eagles pieced together an improbable four-run, two-out rally to post a 9-8 victory at Thayer and earned their third straight trip to the Class 1 state tournament.
"When you're one strike away, twice. ... I can't say enough about how my kids played," an emotional Thayer coach Matt Pitts said after the game. "Oran has a heck of a team."
The Eagles benefited from timely contributions throughout the lineup.
They were outhit (12-8), outslugged (4-1 in extra base hits) and seemed to let opportunities slip through their grasp in the first six innings (nine left on base, seven in scoring position).
But they took advantage of their opportunity when it counted.
Cleanup hitter Joey Williams, 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his first four plate appearances, had the game-winning basehit in the bottom of the seventh.
Chase Seyer, who was 0-for-4 and left four baserunners in scoring position, shrugged that off to pitch the final 1 1/3 innings and gain the win.
"I was just hoping it didn't get any worse than it was," said Seyer, who did allow a two-run triple with the runs charged to Matt Seyer but allowed no other runs against a team that scored 68 in its four previous games.
Oran took advantage of seven walks - three in the final inning - three hit batsmen and four Thayer errors, two of those in the final inning.
The win sent the Eagles into today's Class 1 state semifinal in Columbia.
"I told them before the final inning that I wanted to score four runs, not three," said Oran coach Mitch Wood, hoping to avoid extra innings.
He almost got none. Two of Oran's first three batters in the bottom of the seventh made outs and the next two fought off 3-2 counts to reach base.
Trevor Irwin's two-run single tied the game and his ability to reach second on an outfield bobble set the table for Williams' game-winning hit.
In the game of what-ifs, Thayer's Pitts was lamenting a runner left at third base in the seventh when the bottom of the order set the table for leadoff batter Aaron Henry, who grounded to Seyer.
"I kind of get the feeling if we had scored one run in the seventh, we would have won," Pitts said.
Opportunities missed; opportunities converted. That's the kind of game it was.