BROWNSBORO — There was a common refrain coming from the Cayuga dugout anytime any of the fourth-ranked Wildcats’ five seniors were at the plate.
“Be a senior,” either CHS athletic director Greg Jenkins or CHS coach Greg Branch would say.
It was a request that the four seniors who saw action here Friday seemed to take to heart.
Each of the four had a hand in the game’s final two innings, a span that saw the Wildcats come back from a 3-1 deficit to claim a 4-3, walk-off victory over Overton.
“I told the team yesterday as we were leaving practice, ‘We’re not going down because of the five guys sitting in the dugout that are seniors,’” Branch said. “I told them before the game, ‘We won’t lose tonight, because these five guys won’t let you.’
“Everyone of them, it seemed like, played a role again. It seemed like the whole team played a role.”
With the win, Cayuga advances to the regional semifinals where they’ll take on Douglass. The Indians won in walk-off fashion themselves Friday, 6-5 over Cushing to end their series.
The series victory was also redemption, of sorts, for the Wildcats, who fell to Overton in this same round last year in a three-game series after winning Game 1.
“To get over that hump and beat a team that’s been a nuisance to us for a while, it means big things for not only our kids and not only baseball, but our entire athletic program,” Branch said.
Added senior Bo Sharp, “It feels great. We can kid of relax a little more knowing that we got over the hump this year. We can go into next year prepared, and not worry about having to waste anymore arms (in Game 3).”
With the game tied at 3-3 with two outs in the seventh, Sharp worked a walked, the last pitch of which skittered away from Overton catcher Tyler Rhodes, allowing Cayuga senior Jake Nash to move to third.
With the game-winning run one base away, Cayuga pitcher Chantz Holland stepped to the plate, but wouldn’t’ be there long.
Overton pitcher A.J. McCasland’s first pitch was in the dirt and got away from Rhodes, and Nash broke for home.
Rhodes couldn’t field the ball cleanly, Nash scored standing up and the Cayuga dugout spilled onto the field in celebration.
“As soon as I got to third base, coach Branch said, ‘You’ve got to be aggressive and get a good jump,’” Nash said. “As soon as that ball hit the dirt I knew that was my opportunity, and I just took it and knew that was it, I was going to score.”
Senior Jimmy Johnson had drawn a walk earlier in the inning to move the rally along, and the game’s biggest play before the game-winning run also involved a senior.
With the Wildcats trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, senior Zac Bowman sat at second, while Holland was at third with Hunter Johnson up to bat.
Johnson grounded to short, and the path of Overton shortstop Derek Graham charging the ball and Bowman met right after Graham fielded the ball.
The pair nearly collided, and the ball fell out of Graham’s glove, allowing Holland to score and Johnson to reach first safely.
But, the second base umpire called Bowman out for baserunner’s interference, ending the inning before the score.
Branch argued the call, and third base umpire came over to consult. The call was eventually overturned, and the run stood, cutting Overton’s lead to 3-2.
Overton threatened, like it had many innings before, in the seventh, putting the first two runners on base before an out was recorded.
But, Holland bore down as he’d done almost every time before, and got a pop-up to third, a strikeout and a line-out to second on nice play by Payton Wallace to end the inning with no runs scored.
“We didn’t even know if Chantz was going to play today,” Branch said. “He said, ‘You’re not going to take the ball away from me.’ We left him in and he did the same thing he did against them last year, he just battled them to the end.
“A kid like Chantz speaks for the whole program, the resilience these kids have.”
Holland overcame some rough innings and an illness he’d been battling for two days to get the win for Cayuga.
The junior struck out nine in the win, but more importantly stranded 11 Mustangs on the base paths.
With runners in scoring position, Holland held Overton to 2-of-15 with runners in scoring position in a gutsy, 119-pitch performance.
“I just had to step off, recollect myself and say, ‘I’ve got to get this next one out,’” Holland said. “There was no room for errors, mistakes, anything. If we wanted to win, I had to get them out.”
Cayuga still entered the bottom of the seventh trailing by one, but that didn’t last long.
Jaret Walthall broke an 0-for-4 streak in the series with a bloop hit to right field to start the inning, and he moved to second on a walk by Jimmy Johnson.
Payton Wallace hit a soft ground ball back to McCasland in the next at-bat, but the Overton pitcher slightly hesitated with his decision-making.
He eventually made the throw to second, erasing Johnson, but too late to double-up Wallace.
“I was just digging my hardest, trying to get to first before they made the double-play,” Wallace said.
The event almost repeated in the next at-bat with Nash, who grounded the ball to second base.
Colby Carpenter fielded the ball for Overton, throwing to short to erase Wallace but Nash beat out the relay throw to first.
That allowed Walthall to score, tying up the game.
Overton took the lead in the fourth, when the Mustangs again threatened early in an inning.
Spencer Wright led off the inning with a single to left field, and Jesse Roach followed that up with his own single to center.
But, Holland bore down and struck out the next two batters, until Carpenter came to bat.
Carpenter singled to left, scoring both Roach and Wright, and he later came around to score on an error.
Cayuga opened the game’s scoring in the first, when Johnson singled, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice ground out from Wallace then scored on Nash sacrifice fly.