Fruitless in three prior plate appearances, Aynor’s Caleb Nobles took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he stepped to the dish in the seventh, pondering not on his frustration earlier in the night, but the key verse from the team’s devotional hours earlier.
The passage came from Deuteronomy 31:6, which reads, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you.”
Given an extra dose of confidence from coach Chad Sarvis, Nobles delivered for the Blue Jackets when they needed him most Saturday night.
His base hit with two outs in the seventh allowed Aynor to walk-off with a 4-3 win Saturday over Johnsonville in the first round of the Lower State AAA baseball tournament.
“(Sarvis) told me no one better (that he’d want in the situation),” Nobles said. “We had a devotional that said to be ‘courageous and strong,’ and that really gave me some confidence.”
His shot down the third-base line brought Seth Hucks in for the winning run, concluding a back-and-forth affair featuring four lead changes and three ties.
“Johnsonville is such a great team … and they have several great players in the lineup,” Sarvis said. “It was back and forth there at the end, we played well defensively to get out of some tough situations several times in the late innings. And then we come up late in the game, Nobles, who had been struggling all night, comes up with a clutch hit for us at the end.
“I told him to just relax and do his thing, and he did.”
Johnsonville struck first, as speedy Justin Thompson crossed home plate courtesy of a Jay Newell RBI single. The Flashes benefited early from erratic pitching by starter Ridge Richardson, who walked each of the game’s first two batters.
Richardson would atone for it in the bottom half of the inning, though. With a man on and one out, he sent the 1-2 delivery of Lee Daniel over the left field fence for a home run to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead.
There’s four teams left, and every one is good. I tell our kids every day that you’re going to have to come ready to play, hope to get some breaks along the way and make timely hits.
Aynor baseball coach Chad Sarvis
Following a pair of 1-2-3 innings, Johnsonville knotted the game at 2 in the fourth, a Tristan Hatfield single bringing pinch runner Ethan Prosser home. But just as it had done in the game’s opening frame, Aynor would use the long ball to move back out front.
A towering shot over the left-field fence by Ian Prosser gave the Blue Jackets a 3-2 lead, an advantage they would hold till the top half of the seventh.
After a base hit by Hatfield and an error the following batter by Richardson put two on, Johnsonville drew even on a sacrifice fly by Lex Tuten.
This set the scene for an Aynor squad used to seventh-inning heroics, having come through in the clutch many times earlier on this season.
A walk and a hit batsman put two men on with one out for the Blue Jackets, with Justin Thompson executing a near perfect sacrifice bunt to move them over to second and third.
Having struck out twice earlier in the game to Flashes reliever Austin Cox, Nobles dug in expecting the off-speed pitch the Johnsonville hurler had so much success with in the contest.
However, patience proved to be a virtue for the Blue Jackets’ elder statesman, sending Cox’s fast ball down the third base line for the game’s winning hit.
“I finally got a fastball and did something with it,” Nobles said. “… All I could say is this team is moving on to the next round, I give all glory to God.”
Next up for Aynor is a tough Bishop England squad, which also survived its Lower State AA tournament opener with a 5-4 result against Barnwell.
“There’s four teams left, and every one is good,” Sarvis said. “I tell our kids every day that you’re going to have to come ready to play, hope to get some breaks along the way and make timely hits.”
▪ W: Ridge Richardson L: Austin Cox Top hitters: JHS: Tristan Hatfield 2-for-3, RBI, R, SB; Jay Newell 1-for-4, RBI. AYN: Ridge Richardson 1-for-3, HR, 2 RBI; Ian Prosser 1-for-3, HR, RBI; Caleb Nobles 1-for-4, RBI.
▪ Records: Johnsonville 23-7; Aynor 19-4.