Ethan Childress started Tuesday afternoon's MRVC West rivalry game against Oak Grove on the bench, cheering on his Grain Valley High School teammates.
He ended the game with a dramatic one-out pinch hit that drove in the fifth run in the bottom of the seventh inning as the never-say-die Eagles claimed a dramatic 6-5 come-from-behind walk-off win that had the large crowd of Grain Valley fans begging for more.
Oak Grove (12-4, 4-2), ranked ninth in the state in Class 4, entered the bottom of the seventh inning with a 5-1 lead and a world of confidence.
Grain Valley (6-10, 2-4) leadoff man Jake Deselle, who had three hits in the game, stroked a soft liner into left field that was called a base hit. It appeared the ball had been caught, but after the umpires consulted on the field, Deselle was called safe at first and the fireworks began.
Panthers coach Kirk Sears had a brief discussion with the umpiring crew and returned to the dugout, only to see an infield error put two runners on base with no outs.
Zack Ehlen lined an RBI single up the middle to make it 5-2. Zac Slaven then singled in a run and Ryan Niemann's bunt down the first base line was good for a single. But first baseman Austin Nibarger slipped while fielding the bunt and then threw the ball away at first, making it a 5-4 game with runners on second and third.
That's when coach Mark Lyford summoned Childress to pinch hit.
“Ethan has been our DH a couple of times this season, and he makes good contact,” Lyford said. “I felt good with him at the plate. I felt like he's going to get the bat on the ball.”
And he did. With a 3-2 count, he hit a soft line drive to right field that scored the tying and game-winning runs.
“Just call us the comeback kids,” said Childress, who was preparing to play in the junior varsity game that followed the varsity contest. “I feel so good right now. It's the greatest feeling in the world to come in and get a big hit like that.
“When the inning started, I was just on the bench watching what was going on out there, and I never thought I'd be a part of it.”
Deselle believes the win could be pivotal for the reminder of the Eagles’ season.
“We've lost some tough games, like the 2-1 loss to Odessa yesterday,” Deselle said. “We went to the Marshall Tournament and finished with a 3-1 record and that gave us some confidence, and we felt confident today, even though we were coming off that loss to Odessa.
“We started the seventh with a hit, and they made a couple of errors and Ethan gets the biggest hit of the season to win the game. We can build off a win like this, especially since it came against a great team like Oak Grove.”
Eagles starter Nick Alvarado went six innings and allowed four runs in the second. At one time, he retired 11 consecutive batters. Even though Avery Fowler picked up the win after allowing one unearned run in the top of the seventh, Alvarado was thrilled with the seventh-inning rally.
“Childress came in and did the toughest thing in baseball – getting a game-winning pinch hit,” said Alvarado, who had seven strikeouts and allowed just four hits. “It's like me in basketball, when I'm brought in at the end of a game to hit free throws.
“There's a lot of pressure and Ethan really came through. This is a big confidence booster for us because they are a great team and have a great coach. We need to build off this win the rest of the season.”
Oak Grove scored four runs in the top of the second inning when Nibarger and Aaron Graham walked. Austin Reader followed with an RBI single, Graham stole home on the front end of a double steal and Dakota Hearn and Tanner Johnson doubled, and tripled, respectively.