It took 6 1/3 innings but Watson Chapel finally broke through against White Hall pitcher Daniel Sprinkle.
The Wildcats had scratched across three runs in the first six innings, but trailed 6-3 entering the bottom of the seventh at home on Friday afternoon.
“We had to be tough,” Watson Chapel coach Chad Cope said of his team’s offensive approach. “He needed to take some pitches. I thought we helped (Sprinkle) out some early on, but hit some balls hard just right at them.
“I figured, if we could stay within two or three runs and get his pitch count up, we’d have a chance late.”
The signs were there that Watson Chapel could break through, but every time Sprinkle came up with the pitch he needed to prevent the big inning.
In the seventh, though, the Wildcats finally broke through.
Jacob Owen drove in two with a hard hit ball to shortstop Justin Archer while Chris Williams and Kirel Young drew bases-loaded walks as Watson Chapel grabbed a stunning 7-6 comeback win.
“He’s a special pitcher,” Cope said of Sprinkle. “We didn’t play our best (Friday), but you’re not going to always be at your best.
“We just kept fighting and like I said Sprinkle is a special pitcher, but I think we had him down for 156 pitches so we made it difficult for him.”
White Hall coach Skip Carr said he considered sending out another pitcher to try and close out the game.
“There was a discussion,” Carr said. “I went to (Sprinkle) and he said he felt good.
“He said he wanted the ball.”
Watson Chapel (16-5, 10-1 5A-South) had its leadoff hitter Josh Dardenne up to start the inning. The senior coaxed his third walk of the game to begin the rally.
“That’s what you want out of your leadoff hitter,” Cope said. “I think that was his third walk of the game.
“He probably saw 20 pitches (Friday) that’s all you can ask out of him.”
Sprinkle bounced back to strike out Jaylen Jackson for the third time in the game, but he gave up back-to-back singles to Landen Colson and Blake Phillips to load the bases.
Owen followed with a bullet to short that Archer managed to keep on the infield. The ball did get far enough away, though, to allow Dardenne and a heads-up Colson to score.
Justin Pierce, who started the game for Watson Chapel, dropped a single into right field to re-load the bases.
Williams and Young followed with five-pitch walks to defeat the Bulldogs (10-10, 6-5).
“In times like that,” Cope said, “I want us to take till we get a strike.
“There at the end when it got to 3-1. I told them to take again. If he’d thrown a strike, I might have told them to take again. I know it sounds crazy, but I might have.”
Despite the loss, Carr said he was proud of the way his team fought.
“We battled the whole game,” he said, “we just couldn’t finish.”
The Bulldogs had a 4-1 lead with one out in the third inning when they chased Pierce, who went the distance in the Wildcats’ 4-3 win in the teams’ first matchup of the season.
Jackson came on on relief and earned the win after throwing the final 3 2/3 innings. Jackson allowed just two runs over that span, both coming off the bat of Kirk Baugh. The junior homered off Jackson to lead off the fifth and hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Jackson said Friday night’s outing was probably his longest since dislocating his shoulder early in the season.
“Playing White Hall you got to win the game,” Jackson said. “No frustration just locked in.
“They played us well, too, but we never gave up.”
Cope said he was impressed with him team’s never-say-die attitude.
“One of the things I always say is ‘You have to learn to handle failure,’” Cope said. “You have to learn to deal with it.
“Because with baseball you’re always going to get another shot.”
That next shot will come on Monday when Watson Chapel will be playing for first place in the conference against Hot Springs Lakeside (11-1 in 5A-South).
“Just keep playing it as a conference game,” Jackson said. “I mean, if we had lost (Friday), we wouldn’t be in first place. All of the conference games count the same.
“We just need to come out and play the best we can.”
Asked to elaborate, Jackson said, “Just smash the ball and play defense.
“That’s my new motto.”