Tensions were high Thursday night when the Douglas County Baseball Assn. 10-U American division championship game came down to an extra inning.
The game was about 20 seconds shy of reaching the two hour time limit, but Lancers' coach Jim Taylor wanted to give his boys one final opportunity to win the championship.
Taylor hurried his team on the field to beat the time limit. This gave the Lancers a chance for an exciting comeback in the seventh inning.
The one thing that stood in their way was Warriors pitcher Erick Mayo and solid defensive play from the Warriors' infield.
"We've played the Lancers five times this season and know they are fierce competition," Warriors coach Randy Gardner said. "In one game earlier this season we were up by five and lost, so we knew going into the last inning and the actual last inning that they could still come back to beat us."
The Warriors had defeated the Lancers on Wednesday night 12-7, forcing the final game Thursday night at 4-H Fairgrounds.
Both teams were low on energy and on pitching coming into the contest as it was their third tournament game in as many days - a catalyst to the game's wild start.
Mayo led off the first with a double to right field off Lancers pitcher Josh Saathoff. Scott Gill then hit a single to drive Mayo home from third base. Gill later scored on a dropped Brett Van Blairicum pop-up. Chris Gillespie's single to centerfield drove in another run.
Good base running by Austin Abbott allowed him to steal home plate for the fifth run of the inning.
Saathoff then calmed down, allowing only one more hit and forcing two pop flies to end the inning. The Lancers went into their half of the inning, down 5-0.
The Lancers answered back with a lead-off single from Chase Taylor. Saathoff followed with a single of his own.
Batting in the third spot, Chris Heller knocked an RBI single to drive in a run. The next batter, Joey Bateman, popped up for the first out of the inning. After Miles Stevens was hit by a pitch, Anthony Miele responded with a single, driving in a run.
Heller was caught at third to record another out. But a double by John Fellers two batters later drove in two more runs for the Lancers.
Abbot, on the mound for the Warriors, struck out Adam Fales to end the inning.
After one inning the Warriors has a 5-4 lead.
The excitement continued in the top of the second with help from the bats of Marshall Bonham, Mayo and Gill. Mayo, Gillespie and Abbott drove in runs for the Warriors. The inning ended much the same as the first with Saathoff forcing two pop-up outs.
In the bottom of the second, the Lancers tried to make up some ground and got the inning off to a good start with a single from Taylor.
Abbott showed his arm, striking out the next batter, catching a pop fly and forcing another out to end the inning. The inning didn't end without a run scored, as Taylor was able to steal home. At the end of two the Warriors had a 9-5 lead.
The Warriors' lead was not safe in the third.
Heller came in to start the top of the inning for the Lancers on the mound. He forced three groundouts, gave up one walk and allowed no runs in his first inning of play.
On the bats of the Lancers, the score broke wide open in the bottom of the third.
A lead-off walk followed by two doubles helped get the Lancers going early. Dallas Brown drove in two with a double to deep leftfield .
After a solid defensive out, Saathoff drove in a run. And then a double off the bat of Heller brought home Adam Fales and Taylor.
Joey Bateman laid down a sacrifice bunt to drive in a run and then a pop fly finally ended the inning, which left the Lancers with an 11-9 lead.
More Warriors' offense came in the fourth, with RBIs coming from Van Blairicum, Abbott and Crey Gardner. The Lancers' Heller struck out Cole Cummins to end the inning, but the Warriors had already taken a one-run advantage.
The Warriors' lead didn't last long.
In the bottom of the fourth, a single from Miele to start the inning, followed by three walks gave the Lancers two more runs.
Abbott made a spectacular diving catch in the center of the field to grab the third out of the inning, backing up Mayo, the new pitcher on the mound for the Warriors.
The fifth inning saw solid pitching from both teams as Heller and Mayo each took down their opponent's batters in order.
With time expiring, the top of the sixth appeared to be the Warriors' last chance to take control of the game and pull out the upset victory.
Van Blairicum hit a double to help start the inning on the right foot.
Two walks loaded the bases when Griffith was hit by a pitch, to bring home a run. Cummins came up big for the Warriors with a huge two-run double up the middle.
Another walk kept the bases loaded for the Warriors. Mayo responded to the two-out challenge by blasting the ball to deep left field, driving in three more Warrior runs. Gillispie grounded out to end the inning.
The Warriors put themselves in the position to win the game if they could hold off the Lancers and preserve their 18-13 lead.
Deja vu worries
The Warriors recalled their game earlier in the year when they blew a five-run lead and knew every out would be crucial for victory.
Parents and fans cheered after the Warriors' Mayo pitched Fellers into a groundout. Everyone who was cheering for the Warriors yelled, "One out!"
The next batter followed suit, and the Warriors found themselves where they thought would be, one out away from the championship.
Mayo allowed a walk but followed with a solid throw to first for the final out of the inning.
One last chance
Quick-thinking Lancers oach Taylor hustled the game along before time expired. And since the seventh began under the time limit, the Lancers would get the bottom of the seventh to have another chance at a comeback.
The Warriors, a bit disappointed, knew what they had to do to ensure a victory: score some runs and play solid defense.
That is just what they did by adding another run off the bat of Cummins. New Lancers pitcher Saathhoff gave his team a solid inning, striking out one and ending the inning by forcing Brady Clements into a groundout.
With all of the drama, the Warriors would be in agony if they let the game slip out of their hands.
Mayo returned to the mound determined to have a repeat performance of the sixth.
Mayo caught a pop fly, before sacrificing a walk and a double to centerfield that put two runners on base with only one out.
Mayo's body language said that he was feeling the pressure.
Miele drove in two and gave the Lancers life. Brown popped out to Van Blairicum at third.
After Mayo gave up a walk, Fales' infield hit went through to the outfield.
The Warriors coaches held their breath as they saw the game earlier in the season flash before their eyes. Mayo, who had changed the face of the game in the sixth, made a great throw to third to allow Van Blairicum to put the tag on the running Fales.
Finally, the game ended with the Warriors hoisting the 10-U American trophy, after a 19-16 victory.
"The Lancers are the toughest team we have faced this season," Coach Gardner said. "I am so proud of them because they had the winning run at the plate and we hung in there and tried hard."
Coach Taylor said both teams played well and battled greatly during the game.
"A core group of these kids have played on my team before, and so they knew what to expect from me and I of them," Coach Taylor said. "We are third in league and second in tourney; I am proud of the team.
Coach Gardner said fatigue played a factor in the final outcome of the game.
"Playing three nights in a row, both teams were low on pitchers," Coach Gardner said. "During the season we tried to play kids at different positions and it paid off tonight. Because of our versatility at the positions, it helped out in pitching and when it came to our defense. I think it made the difference in the game."
The kids were the difference in the game, battling tough to the last out.
The Warriors were grinning ear to ear as they went to Sheridans, with trophies in hand, to celebrate their victory.