Taking on Piedmont Hills in their CCS quarterfinal matchup, the Wilcox Chargers were the better team for the middle five-and-a-half innings on Saturday. From the top of the second inning until the middle of the seventh, Wilcox outscored the Pirates 5-0, erasing a 4-0 deficit.
Chargers starting pitcher Robert Padilla gave up four runs in the first, but then shut the door for the next four-and-two-thirds innings. Padilla’s ability to bounce back allowed time for his offense to slowly chip away.
Shortstop Paul Rosa got the Chargers on the board in the third with a clutch two-out RBI single. In the fourth inning, Nathan Oliveira cut the lead to 4-2 when he delivered a deep sacrifice fly after an impressive 11-pitch at bat. Then in the sixth inning, it was Alex Tolbert smashing a two-run double to center field, knocking home Jarrett Chapman and Nick Malvini to tie the game at four.
In the bottom of the sixth the Pirates would load the bases with two outs. At that point Chargers Head Coach David Currie elected to go to the bullpen. Replacing Padilla was Nathan Santos. After falling behind 1-0 and 2-1, Santos induced a harmless foulout, stranding the bases loaded and keeping the score tied at four.
The following inning, with runners at the corners and two outs, Malvini worked a 10-pitch at bat before smoking a line-drive single into left-center field. Alex Adame would come around third to score and just like that Wilcox had come all the way back to take a 5-4 lead with just three outs needed to move on to the semifinal.
In the bottom half of the seventh, a leadoff single—a 47-hopper through the hole between first and second—opened things up for the Pirates. The following plate at bat is where things went south in the blink of an eye.
The next batter hit a grounder right to a Chargers infielder, starting what should have been a double play. Unfortunately for Wilcox fans, the throw to second base was wide of the bag and went all the way into the outfield, setting up a first and third situation with nobody out.
The ensuing plate appearance saw the back runner steal second base. A subsequent RBI groundout to the right side not only tied the game up, but also moved the back runner to third.
Two batters later, a wild pitch would allow the winning run to cross the plate in walk-off fashion.
“We were able to chip away, battling at the plate all afternoon, felt like it was only a matter of time until we would score a few,” remarked coach Currie. “But we just dug ourselves a little bit too deep of a hole as it turns out.”
After Malvini’s hit had given the Chargers the lead, Tolbert was up next. Wilcox elected to try and sneak home the run by sending the runner early from first to second. The idea is to get in a pickle between first and second and have the runner at third takeoff and score before the throw home. The Pirates defense read the play correctly and threw home in plenty of time to nail the runner at the plate.
Considering his big two-run double earlier, the Chargers could have instead allowed Tolbert to have the opportunity to drive home the run with a base hit.
“That wasn’t actually my call,” remarked coach Currie about the decision to send the runner early with Tolbert at the plate. “I think the first pitch [where Alex was late on a fastball] might have influenced our coach’s decision there. Otherwise you kind of need a hit there to score the run, although they [the Pirates] didn’t need one at the end.”
“It was frustrating obviously,” admitted Tolbert on not getting to complete his at bat. “You wanna help your team out and I felt good today at the plate.”