Troy stays alive, wins bye into championship

Published 11:36 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It was about time for Sam Kitchens to have a lucky draw.

And he got one on Tuesday night, pulling a bye for his Junior Dixie Boys team that puts them in the championship game of the World Series tournament at 8 p.m. today in Enterprise, awaiting the winner of the Texas-South Carolina game.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever won any drawing,” Kitchens said, just moments after letting out a triumphant yell as he unfolded his piece of paper during the drawing. “I lost a draw for a bye in 1998 and 2004, so I had never won a draw before tonight.”

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The drawing was set up by South Carolina’s 13-2 win over Texas, who had been undefeated in the tournament until Tuesday. With three teams each with only one loss, rules called for a drawing for one team to have an automatic bye into the winner-take-all championship game at 8 p.m. The other two teams will play at 5 p.m. with the winner earning the spot in the championship.

The bye is huge for Troy, as two of Troy’s top three pitchers will be ineligible due to pitch count rule and having to play two games in order to win the tournament would have further strained the pitching staff.

“That was the biggest thing that could have happened is for us to get that bye,” Kitchens said. “We’ll probably throw Blake Craft and just see how far he can go.”

Troy had to win a game Tuesday to even get to the drawing, however. The 8-7 win over Louisiana was yet another come-from behind victory, something that has become a staple of the team.

“I’m just speechless,” Kitchens said. “Again, these kids just wouldn’t quit, just like they haven’t quit this entire tournament. I just take my hat off to them. I’m so proud of them and what they’ve been able to do.”

Kitchens said Troy did not execute early on, but improved as the game went along.

“We were just able to start making some plays,” Kitchens said. “We got some clutch hitting from our guys. I really can’t say enough about their effort. I’m just so thrilled and so proud of them.”

Troy fell behind early on, but battled back to take a 3-2 lead.

However, Louisiana rallied and got a three-run home run from Nathan Navarro to take a 6-3 lead.

Troy trailed 7-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth before making a huge rally.

Chase Smartt, Tripp Blackmon and Miles Loving all singled to load the bases with nobody out for Taylor Lord, who was hit by a pitch to drive in a run.

Rhett Tucker then singled in another run, but Lord was caught too far off of second base and was tagged out.

While Morgan Shaver was at the plate, Loving was caught in a run down for the second out.

Shaver then walked to put runners on first and second. The Louisiana pitcher moved over those runners on a balk.

Blake Craft then came up and doubled to deep left field to drive in Tucker and Shaver and tie the game at seven.

Craft said he focused on clearing his mind at the plate

“I really wasn’t thinking too much up there,” Craft said. “I just saw that pitch and I knew it was mine and I knew I had it.”

Chandler Avant had an opportunity to put Troy up in the fifth, but Louisiana decided to intentionally walk him. On the third intentional ball, however, Craft attempted to steal third and was thrown out to end the inning.

Seven Troy batters reached safely and no batter was retired in the fifth, yet Troy came away with four runs on five hits.

“I was about to come unglued,” Kitchens said. “I wish we had four days to practice on base running alone, but we don’t.”

Troy went up in the sixth when Avant was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, stole second, reached third on an error by the shortstop and then scored on a wild pitch.

Much like Troy’s first game against Louisiana, Avant pitched well in relief and was flirting with the 45-pitch count limit going into the seventh inning.

However, Avant pitched the seventh and went over 45 pitches to help seal the win for Troy.

“I was thinking about how I didn’t want to go over the pitch count because I really wanted to throw tomorrow,” Avant said. “But, I knew that we had to have this game just to get to tomorrow, so I decided if I had to go over, then I just had to go over.”

After the game, Kitchens said there was a sense of accomplishment over the win.

“We’re going to live to play another day,” Kitchens said. “These kids have earned the right to do that. I don’t care how tomorrow plays out because these kids have earned the right to play on the last day. They’ll have a chance to make an effort to win it, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Click here for photos from Tuesday night.