Just when it appeared that visiting Grain Valley High School was about to lose its third consecutive game to start the season, the encouragement from the dugout echoed across the Fort Osage High School baseball complex.
Trailing 5-3 going into the top half of the seventh inning, the Eagles were down to their final three outs when something happened that created a spiraling, domino effect that washed over the Eagles like a tidal wave.
“Did you notice how noisy our dugout was?” asked Max Chapman, whose two-run double knotted the score at 5-all in the seventh. “When we got down, we got louder. And when we started to come back in the game, we got even louder!
“We started the season 0-2 and we had a team meeting about being good teammates and playing as a team, and supporting each other and that’s what we did. And look at what happened in the seventh inning.”
The Eagles scored seven runs to claim a 10-7 victory over the Indians, who appeared to have a lock on the game through five innings as sophomore pitcher Jacob Merithew was throwing a one-hit gem.
“I looked their starting pitcher up after the game and told him this probably wouldn’t have happened if it would have been two or three weeks down the road and he’d have pitched the entire game,” Eagles coach Brian Driskell said after his team improved to 1-2. “But we did what we had to do late in the game to win. You know how they say a team is a reflection of its coach? Well, I’m not a big ‘rah, rah’ guy or a guy who makes a lot of noise in a game. That doesn’t mean I don’t support my guys, because I do.
“And the other day, we had a team meeting and we talked about passion and having a love of the game and a love of our teammates. And I thought our guys demonstrated that tonight. I’ve never been in a more enthusiastic dugout where everyone was supporting everyone else.
“It’s easy to support your teammates when you have a big lead, but our guys were very supportive when we were down 2-0 (against Merithew) and when we were down 5-3 late in game. We’re a young team, and I think they learned something today – what it means to be a team and to support your teammates.”
All of the Eagles’ 10 runs came off three Indian relievers who simply couldn’t find a way to get the big out.
Grain Valley sent 12 batters to the plate in the seventh inning and finished with four hits, two walks and a botched fielder’s choice.
“Once we started getting on base, guys couldn’t wait to get up to bat,” said No. 9 hitter Mason Rogers, who had a two-run single in the seventh-inning rally. “This was a huge win for our team because we were 0-2 and we needed a win.
“And to get a win like this, after we had that team meeting about supporting each other and coming together as a team, made it even more special.”
Reliever Anthony Blanchett, who put the fire out in the sixth inning after Fort Osage had scored three runs to take a 5-3 lead, echoed the comments on his teammates.
“We all did what we had to do to win this game,” said Blanchett, who picked up the win in relief. “It was so loud in our dugout. We were having a good time supporting the guys who were up to bat and they really responded to what we were saying.”
For five innings, the game was a pitchers’ duel between Merithew and Garrett Morrow, who allowed one unearned run and had nine strikeouts.
“It was a crazy first game, that’s for sure,” Indians coach Chris Walker said after his team manicured the field and put a tarp on the batting area. “Jacob was great. He threw 76 pitches and this early, we’re not going to let him throw any more.
“We could have made a play here or there, and maybe it would have been a better outcome, but my guys played hard and that’s all I can ask.”
Catcher Spencer Patrick personified that comment with a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“There’s no give-up in Spencer or any of our guys,” Walker said.