PURDY --"I'll take a bunch of innings like that," said Coach Josh Hughes of his Purdy baseball team's overwhelming rally in the fifth, an 8-3 comeback win against the Wheaton Bulldogs.
As a result, if Purdy (2-1 league, 9-6 overall) wins at home against Exeter on Friday, it will share the Ozark 7 conference title with Wheaton and Southwest.
The Monday night game was the first defeat for Wheaton in league play. The Bulldogs are 3-1 and 6-5 overall.
Yet Wheaton had victory in sight when it broke a 1-1 game in the fifth inning, pulling away by two runs.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Purdy Eagles dug deep to stage the most important comeback of the season, racking up seven runs for a convincing win.
Eagles' pitcher Riley Veith threw his characteristic tightrope game early on, somehow getting out of the second inning scoreless after allowing a hit, hitting a batter and loading the bases with a walk. He cleaned it all up, including teammate fielding errors, by blurring the Bulldogs' batter for out three.
Bunting proved to be Purdy's gambit, a tactic instrumental in the first run. After Kevin Miller's hit to lead off the bottom of the second, Veith's bunt got another toehold. Devon Bennett's sacrifice bunt advanced both runners, then Daniel Burnside's sacrifice fly drove in Miller to score.
Wheaton promptly evened the game at 1-1 in the top of third, despite Veith's fanning two more and the snuffing-out of a steal attempt to third base.
The defensive chaos that's scorched Purdy this year surfaced in the fifth. Leadoff walks became Bulldog tallies when a playable grounder and a mitt-worthy pop-up didn't render outs. Wheaton went ahead, 3-1.
Hughes's intensive coaching style came to the fore at this moment, as if he sensed the season was on trial. His directives to pick up the play weren't aimed at boys. The blunt assessment he broadcasts out on the field is for young men to heed as baseball gospel.
"We were walking around like we were already beat," he explained in raspy voice.
When his team came off the field to bat, he wasn't bargaining for help, it was an anthem: "Everybody up! Everybody chatter!"
But in the fifth inning, it happened to be Wheaton lefty pitcher James Musick's best frame -- and he smoked three Eagle batters in succession.
Purdy now was down to six precious outs.
In the top of the sixth, Riley Veith's outstanding effort from the mound and the turf beyond was all-out resistance to the bleak reality. Before he struck out the side, Veith covered first base for an out as if it was the most important play in the game. Purdy's grit had come out.
If no one believed field play momentum is portable, what ensued from the Eagles at the plate was a convincing exercise to the contrary. When Purdy came to bat in the bottom of the sixth, it was another example of how athletic competition is a world unto itself, where wonder is spun in every imaginable way.
The will to win began with Reese Stevenson's bold leadoff bunt. It was his choice and Hughes was quick to praise the try, despite the throw-out by the pitcher with the game on the line.
"Make (the) third base (man) work to come get it," the coach advised.
Purdy was down to five outs. Perversely, the rally had begun.
Landon Terry came to the plate, stood smart, and walked. If Wheaton was looking for panic, it wasn't there.
While Kevin Miller was on his way to a full count, Terry stole second base. Kevin Miller got hit by a pitch. Two Purdy runners on, one out.
"I thought when their pitcher (Musick) went after Reese's bunt, it took a lot out of him. He was getting tired," observed Hughes.
|Riley Veith's walk loads||the bases.|
Devon Bennett bats and swings at a bad pitch.
"I told you not to take it!" Hughes admonished. "He can't throw strikes!"
|Two pitches later, Bennett clocks one for a hit, bringing home Terry and Miller.|
"Everything we tried, they were one step ahead of us," said Daniel Burnside, who also figured in the seven-run party by driving in one and scoring himself. "Then we get a hit (Bennett's) and we're wondering -- what's going on? We realize we can do this."
Wheaton coach Kevin Schlessman replaces Musick with Kyle Robbins, but Purdy keeps rapping the ball. Two doubles and two hits later, the damage is done.
Seven runs stuffed in their pockets, Purdy takes an 8-3 lead into the seventh and Wheaton has three outs to alter the new reality.
|Veith's tightrope goes slack with the first batter, advancing him by hardball tattoo.|
A grounder and pop-up get two. One wild pitch later, the pickoff at second base is the coda.
"I love having the responsibility," said Veith, now 4-2 on the season. "And today our defense really picked it up."
"It's always big to beat a rival," said Coach Hughes. "We sneak out this win in the sixth; this might be the turning point in our season."
It earned the Eagles the opportunity to become league tri-champions on Friday: Exeter at Purdy.