Journey’s hit “Don’t stop believing” played over the PA system in the aftermath of Apalachee’s Saturday game with Jackson County.
Those were certainly words that the Wildcats lived by.
With Apalachee down to its last strike in the bottom of the eighth inning, Colin Hedges dropped in a game-tying bloop single into right field, and Zack Bowman followed with a game-winning, walk-off bloop single — also on a two-strike count — into shallow left field as the Wildcats rallied to beat Region 8-AAAAA opponent Jackson County 5-4 March 20 at home.
Four of Apalachee’s five runs in the victory came with two outs.
“Baseball is just a funny game, a bounce here, a bounce there, there are so many momentum swings, that was just a fun game to be a part of,” Apalachee coach Allan Bailey said.
The win — the Wildcats’ first in region play — avenged a 3-2 loss to the Panthers on March 15 and snapped Jackson County’s 11-game winning streak.
“The kids fought hard,” Bailey said. “Both sides fought hard … They’re a great team, and we’re just happy to come away with a win tonight.”
Bowman was 2-for-3 on the day, while Colby Sikes went 3-for-4. Starting pitcher Manning West went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, both of which came in the bottom of the fifth inning when he smashed a two-out single up the middle to tie the game 2-2. The Wildcats (9-6, 1-2 Region 8-AAAAA) finished with 12 hits.
West, who also started on the mound in Apalachee’s Monday (March 15) loss to Jackson County, worked 5 2/3 innings before reaching his pitch count. The Oklahoma State commit allowed just one hit and two runs (neither earned) while walking five batters and striking out eight batters.
Jordan Wilson was unable to hold a 3-2 lead in relief, but earned the win for the Wildcats, working 2 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs and six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
“He’s one of our guys that just had to step up,” Bailey said. “We’re really, really young, and we’re starting four freshmen, and he’s always begging for the ball and had to go a little bit longer than what we normally anticipate him throwing, but he stepped up well and ate some innings.”
Jackson County’s Kedric Zimmer, the winner on the mound March 15 in Game 1, took the loss, working 2 2/3 innings in relief of starter Derek Vaughn. Zimmer gave up five hits and three runs, two of which were earned.
Vaughn threw the first five innings, shutting out the Wildcats through four frames. The senior allowed seven hits, two runs (both earned) with no walks and four strikeouts.
Jackson County (13-4, 2-1 Region 8-AAAAA) built a 2-0 lead after Logan Holycross brought home a run in the top of the fourth by grounding into a fielders’ choice and Justin Ethridge scored from second base on a West error in the top of the fifth inning.
But Apalachee evened the game in the bottom half of the fifth inning when Bowman and Ethan Middlebrooks both reached base via infield singles, advanced on a sac fly from Colby Sikes and then both scored on a hard single from West.
The Wildcats then grabbed a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning when Traver Park reached base on an error, advanced to third on a single from Wilson and scored when Ashton Sapp grounded into a fielders’ choice.
Jackson County found itself down to its last strike in the top of the seventh inning, but Phillip Glander sent a 1-2 pitch into center field, singling home Nick Streuer to tie the game 3-3.
The Panthers then jumped ahead in the top of the eighth inning when Spencer Muffuletto doubled and later scored on a wild pitch.
That set the stage for the dramatic bottom of the eighth.
Zimmer gave up a leadoff single to Wilson before forcing two fly outs and then built an 0-2 count on Hedges.
But Hedges blooped a single into right field that neither Streuer or Ethridge could get to, bringing home pinch runner Kolby Sellers. Bowman then provided the game winner, looping a 3-2 pitch into shallow left field near the foul line to score Hedges from second.
With the win, which followed a 15-1 loss to Walnut Grove Friday (March 19), the Wildcats avoided an 0-3 start in region play.
“Obviously, you don’t want to lose any games, but at the end of the day, all we can control is what’s in front of us,” Bailey said. “We treated today just like we would any other game … We always say the biggest game of the season is the next game, and it doesn’t matter the opponent, it just matters us being able to execute and learn every step of the way. But the win, obviously, is good.”
Apalachee plays at Walnut Grove Monday (March 22, 5:55 p.m.) before starting a two-game set with Class AAAAA No. 1-ranked Loganville at home Wednesday (March 24, 5:55 p.m.). The Wildcats travel to Loganville Friday (March 26, 5:55 p.m.) to close the series.
“We’ve got Walnut Grove and Loganville next week, so it’s going to be a tough one,” Bailey said.