The frustration from a turbulent season spilt over into the first three innings of Chapelgate Christian Academy’s regular season home finale against Indian Creek on Monday evening. Everything that could have possibly went wrong, went wrong.
But, even after each falter, Yellowjackets coach Jeremy Story was there to absorb any angst his team underwent like a sponge, ordering for huddles behind the dugout in between the second and third innings.
The message was heard. Behind a five-run third inning and four-run fifth, Chapelgate was able to wipe away an early five-run deficit on senior day to pick up its sixth win of the season, 9-6.
“A lot of it was forget about it, stop being so tight, and let’s get loose,” Story said of the in-game team meetings. “When a team is struggling, it’s really hard to try and get out of that. … Those first three innings have kind of been the epitome of our season. I’m really proud of them for hanging on. I’m really proud of them for battling and just grinding.”
Before the Yellowjackets had their first place appearance, the Eagles put up three runs and batted around in an ugly first inning that featured three errors, two walks and a passed ball. Fortunately, pitcher Ryan Jordan (2 2/3 innings, 4 H, 3 K, 6 BB, 4 ER) escaped a bases-loaded jam to stop the bleeding momentarily.
Then, in the second inning, Chapelgate committed two more errors, yielding another run and helplessly pushing Indian Creek’s lead to 4-0. Offensively, the Yellowjackets mustered just one hit in the opening two innings and had their first run negated when a base runner was called for interference to become the third and final out.
More trouble occurred in the top of the third when Indian Creek scored its fifth unanswered run on a bases loaded walk. But after that moment, the tides took a sudden turn.
In the bottom of the third, Chapelgate sent 11 batters to the plate, piling on five runs to tie the score at 5. Josh Butler triggered the comeback with a leadoff single and a stolen base, and soon after the Yellowjackets loaded the bases. That’s when Chris Niccolini drew the bases-loaded walk to put Chapelgate on the board, 5-1. The Yellowjackets then scored on four of its next five plate appearances.
For the next four innings, Niccolini dazzled in relief of Jordan, firing 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball. The lone hit was Garrett Odell’s solo home run in the top of the seventh. Other than that, Niccolini mowed through the Eagles lineup, totaling eight strikeouts and only allowing one walk.
“That was huge,” Story said of Niccolini. “He took the bull by the horns and threw strikes.”
The fifth inning looked bleak for Chapelgate, which picked up two outs in the first three at-bats. But after an error put Alan Chambers on first, a single by Butler and a balk to advance both to second and third base, the rally was nearly complete.
In the next at-bat, senior Davon Parker lined a two-RBI single to right field to put Chapelgate ahead for good, 7-5.
“It was a blast,” Parker said of getting the game-winning RBI on senior day. “In the beginning, I was a little anxious, irritated. But it’s not about individuals. It’s about the team.”
In the ensuing at-bat, Dillon Story smacked a two-run homer over the left field fence to pad Chapelgate’s lead to 9-5. Story described it as the “back breaker.”
Indian Creek (6-12), meanwhile, is enduring its fair share of growing pains in the school’s debut season for baseball.
“The pressure sometimes, when we get in situations, gets to them,” Indian Creek coach Matt Shelmer said. “Other than that, that’s been our [modus operandi] all year. Play a great game, make a play, to missing signs and missing pop-ups.”