No. 11 Garden City continues blazing hot start with most improbably weird ending to a 1-0 win over Country Day
BEVERLY HILLS — It’s probably stretching the definition of a walk-off win, but …
One moment, an already nervous Garden City starting pitcher Jacob Grant was facing the reality of the tying run 90 feet away from scoring, and the game-winning run 180 feet behind him.
A moment later, his catcher, Trevor McCorry, is yelling “TAG HIM!!!” — pointing at a Detroit Country Day baserunner who was trudging back to the dugout, and Grant complied.
From nerves to nirvana in a split second.
“When he was yelling at me, I was clueless, and then I saw him running back from first, and I was like ‘Oh, head’s up …’ said Grant, who admitted he wasn’t even facing the plate at the moment, and initially had no idea what was going on. “My catcher, being the heads-up catcher that he is, yelled at me, and I went over and tagged him for the last out.”
The baserunner, thinking he’d hit into a double play, was headed across the infield, in front of the plate. Grant, who’d gotten the ball back from first baseman Kevin Widmer after the runner beat out the double-play relay from second, trotted over and tagged him.
It sealed a 1-0 win for the Cougars, finishing off a three-hit shutout for Grant.
Finishing it in the weirdest way.
“Yeah, actually. Especially in a one-run ballgame. I didn’t think it was going to end like that,” Grant said. “From nervous to super happy, celebrating with team.”
It was the same whiplash of emotion for his first-year skipper.
“I have never seen a game end like that. But head’s up. Between the catcher, the pitcher and the first baseman, all three are seniors, and that’s what you need. That’s what we teach about always looking for the next out, every play. Even if you (can’t) turn a double play, the runner’s at third, you catch the ball at first, and you’re looking for that next out. That’s all they did. Hunting for another out, and he gave it to them,” Jonathan Evans said. “It’s definitely a big adrenaline rush. And then it’s a big crash afterwards. I’m just so happy with how we played today. We’ve been on a roll this year. … The energy, the effort — they were into the game. This is what we want every day.”
For the Yellowjackets (5-7), it was a missed opportunity, the last of several in the final three innings.
In the third, Country Day got two runners on against Grant on a pair of errors, but the Garden City senior got a ground out to end the threat.
In the fifth, the Yellowjackets got a leadoff single, but he was stranded at third after a groundout and line-outs to second and first. In the sixth, Parker Pilat had a two-out double, and DCDS skipper Steve Lepkowski pinch-hit all-state catcher Aaron Dolney (Nebraska) looking for a game-tying RBI. Grant got him to ground out to first.
Country Day’s seventh-inning rally started with a walk, and was extended with an infield error, but Grant got the next hitter to put the ball on the ground, setting up the potential for a game-ending double play.
“Credit to them, too. They hit the ball hard, they just hit it right at us, all day,” Evans said of the Yellowjackets. “That’s the other thing, too. We talk about not being afraid to make a mistake, and if you make a mistake, you move on. Even on the same play, if you bobble the ball, you don’t panic, you pick it up, you find your target and you make the throw.”
That ability to turn the page is part of the reason the Cougars — who were well, well under .500 a year ago — are 15-1 to start this season, and ranked No. 11 in Division in in the latest coaches poll.
“It feels great, actually, because of where we’ve come form in previous years. Now, we’re jelling as a team, we’re working together, we’re becoming a family, we’re playing together as a whole, coming out to show with our talent, coming together,” Grant said. “Well, last year was really rough. We actually finished at like 7-20. So we were really down. This year, we’ve come together a lot. A lot closer. More like brothers this year, to pick each other up and go on.”
What’s been the difference?
“Team chemistry. These guys love each other, top to bottom. They love each other, they hang out after school. It’s not just a baseball team. They’re a group that loves to be together. That’s the biggest thing. Without that, you can’t go anywhere. Last year, that was an issue for us,” said Evans, a 2014 Garden City graduate who was the junior varsity coach for three seasons before taking over the varsity head coaching job over the winter. “Second thing, in practice, these guys come every day, and they work hard. They try to find a way to get better, every single day. And that’s the two biggest things. There’s some talent here, and as long as they focus, and find a way to get better, we can do some good things, and put ourselves in a good spot.”
It was one of those nights where Evans was almost kicking himself for driving separately, knowing how fun the bus ride back to Garden City was going to be. Then again, those happy bus trips have been a lot more frequent of late.
The Cougars are 6-0 in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference —with two forfeits coming up next week.
“It’s a fun group of guys. Even if they had a rough day, they’re fun to be around,” Evans said. “That’s the nice thing, they can turn the page. If it would’ve stung, and they would’ve gotten two runs and won the game, we could come back tomorrow, and these boys would be loose. And they’d be good.”