A game that started with a somber moment ended with plenty of drama as Eastside defeated Locust Grove 6-5 on Friday night.
The home team, Locust Grove, and its fans stood for a moment of silence to acknowledge the passing of Locust Grove Middle School student, Conor Burch, who was tragically killed while trying to board the school bus in front of his home before the first pitch.
The Eagles (18-4, 12-2 Region 4-AAA) trailed 5-4 heading into the sixth and final inning when it became apparent it was Friday 13.
The Wildcats' relief pitcher issued a leadoff walk to Matt Hitchcock to begin the inning.
In an effort to move the Eastside runner to second via sacrifice bunt Daniel Garrett placed his bunt perfectly and legged it out for a base hit.
Drew Buckhault followed and in similar fashion, out-hustling the defense to reach first and load the bases for Eastside.
With bases loaded and one out, Joey Mitchell approached the plate with an opportunity to get the Eagles back into the game. Mitchell swung at the first pitch - strike one, and then after he took a big cut at strike two he fell to the ground in obvious pain.
As Mitchell lay across home plate a hush came over the crowd as he was attended to by the coaching staff and his parents.
Mitchell was carried off the field with a severe knee injury and after more than 10 minutes play was resumed.
With the Eagles still behind by a score of 5-4, bases loaded, one out in the seventh and an 0-2 count on the batter, it was decision time for Eastside coach Brad Weir as he had to sub in a player for the injured Mitchell.
He called upon senior Tyler Bailey to assume the 0-2 count. Bailey watched the first pitch sail to the backstop as Hitchcock thundered home to tie the game at 5-5 and the other runners advanced.
The second pitch was in the dirt and passed the catcher as Garrett hustled home to plate the go-ahead run. Bailey sent the next pitch on the fly to right field where it was caught for out number two and as Buckhault tagged at third and attempted to score, he was cut down at the plate to end the inning.
Now pitching with a one run lead, Wright took the mound for the bottom of the seventh inning. He struck out the first two batters as they pressed to keep their hopes alive and he got the third batter to ground out to third to notch the victory for Eastside.
"We got off the bus flat and made some early mistakes that really made us battle," Weir said. But again, our guys never gave up and battled for seven innings. Drew was good for four innings and Jake was the best we have seen him all year."
Buckhault started the game on the mound, giving up five runs in the first two innings.
Buckhault would settle in and pitch scoreless third and fourth innings, but the Eagle offense was only able to muster a single run in their turns at the plate when Mitchell walked and then was driven in on a Jake Wright double.
The tide began to turn for Eastside in the fifth inning with a Keith Buckhault single and walks to Musashi Briem and Matt Hitchcock. Keith Buckhault advanced on a pair of passed balls and scored on a wild pitch.
Briem scored on a pinch-hit RBI single from Antonius Sims to narrow the margin to 5-3. Wright took the mound in relief of Drew Buckhault in the bottom of the fifth and other than a leadoff walk he was flawless as he retired the next three batters.
Eastside plated another run in the sixth as Mitchell drew a walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then crossed home plate as Jake Wright reached base on a dropped third strike as the Wildcat catcher sailed the ball into right field.
Wright cruised through the sixth inning with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.
The Eagles clinched clinched second place and have two region games remaining next week against Drew and Jackson.
"We have got to get better at hitting with runners on base," Weir said.