By Greg Reed
Free Press Staff Writer
Today's lesson in Baseball 101: Patience.
San Jacinto showed patience Tuesday afternoon when the Gators found themselves in a slugfest with Broward College. And it paid off. The Gators never lead in the game but kept coming back against the hottest-hitting team in the tournament, winning an 18-17 thriller in the bottom of the ninth inning.
For one, their season ain't over yet.
And, two, they earned a two-day rest.
The marathon game ended shortly after seven on Tuesday and the Gators don't play again until 7:30 tonight.
Playing in an elimination game, the Gators had plenty of chances to panic, or push. They trailed 7-4 after the second inning, 12-4 after the top of the fourth and 17-16 entering the ninth.
"I told the guys when we were down eight, I said, 'No lead is save in this ballpark,' and we were able to put it together and come out of it with a victory," said San Jac second baseman James Brown.
It's not like Broward's offensive production was a surprise to anyone. The Seahawks led the tournament in most hitting categories and had just hung a 20-spot on South Suburban the day before.
"Coming into the game, we knew we'd have to score a lot of runs," Brown said. "Of course, we didn't know we'd have to score 18, but we knew we had to put some runs on the board."
That, they did. The teams combined for 40 hits (20 each) and 10 home runs (five each). With the production split evenly, it was the Gators who had the last bite.
Trailing 17-16 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, designated hitter Kyle Henson raked a solo home run to tie the game. After a ground out, third baseman JD Padron tripled.
Broward was faced with playing their infield in tight or walking Jared Dyer to get in a force-out situation. Considering Dyer already sent two out of the park that day, the Seahawks walked him to face No. 9 hitter Jared Grayhart.
Coach Tom Arrington talked with assistant coach DJ Wilson about letting Grayhart swing away or trying the safety squeeze to score Padron from third.
"We figured we'd give him a shot to drive one to the outfield," Arrington said. "His swing was a little bit ugly on a change-up away. At that point, we knew we were going to go to the safety squeeze, which we practice routinely throughout the year."
Grayhart laid it down right between the pitcher and third baseman and Padron scored to keep the Gators' season alive.
"It was a play we like to run in a first and third (situation) and he bunted it to the perfect spot that we asked him to," Arrington said. "It shows the commitment to execution and making sure we're well-equipped in all aspects of the game."
Kind of ironic that, in a game with 40 hits, 35 hits and 10 homers that a bunt sealed the deal. Ironic, effective and well-executed.
The result was a 40-plus rest period until tonight's game. Arrington let the team celebrate, then had a relaxed "active rest" day on Tuesday.
"It was an emotional game," he said. "It was something where they needed to go out, vent themselves, get something to eat, enjoy the moment and then sleep in."
They practiced Wednesday afternoon, had a picnic in the evening and filtered back to the park to take in the late game.
So the San Jac pitching staff is rested for tonight's game. They're just hoping their teammates don't have to score 18 runs to keep the season alive again.