Against Cleveland High School in Friday’s VIBL matchup, Hart baseball found the will to win in the final inning of the 3-2 win at Hart with a walk-off hit.
“A lot of persistence,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “We didn’t really play our best, but guys made big plays.”
Through the first three innings, Indians’ starting pitcher Warner Rhodes went back and forth with the Cavaliers pitcher as neither of them wanted to allow the first run to cross the plate.
In the fourth, things took a much-needed turn for the Indians.
Hart’s Pat Arman clobbered a ball into center field to safely reach second base. The next batter, Rocco Saldivar, laid a bunt down the third baseline allowing Arman to slide over to third while Saldivar reached first in time to beat out the throw.
With runners on first and second base Kendall Thomas stepped to the plate with things looking up for the Indians.
After rocketing a towering foul ball over the right-field wall, Thomas looked locked in to nail another one, this time in fair territory.
Connecting with a ball, Thomas popped up to right field for the first out. Tagging up at third base Arman beat the throw at the plate to give Hart a 1-0 lead. Saldivar moved over to third.
In the next at-bat, Saldivar was able to reach home on a past ball by the Cleveland catcher putting the Indians up 2-0.
Heading into the fifth inning Ozella opted to switch pitchers, bringing Daniel Parra into relieve Rhodes.
Rhodes finished pitching four innings giving up no run on four hits, striking out two and walking two.
“I felt pretty good,” Rhodes said. “Curveball, changeup and fastball and overall I think we played really good.”
Parra allowed Cleveland to tie things up by allowing a run in both the fifth and sixth innings, but was able to get out of the clean things up and give his batters a chance in the seventh.
Parra finished the game pitching three innings giving up two earned runs on seven hits, striking out two and walking none.
In the bottom of the seventh, it was time for Hart’s persistence to pay off.
Jackson Dow singled down the third base line. The next batter laid down a bunt to allow Jackson to advance to second.
And then Cooper Austin stepped into the batter’s box.
In what seemed like the longest at-bat of the game, Austin kept his composure and bought his time and waited for the perfect pitch.
Boy, did it come.
Hitting a ball deep into left field, Austin brought in Dow to end the game on a walk-off double.
“We came out in the beginning of the game and our hitting was sort of ‘eh,’” Austin said. “But we finally wrapped things up and got the winning run in.”