Trimble County’s Michael Dunaway (above) smiles in disbelief after his 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the seventh was called a ball to walk in the game-winning run for Southwestern in a 4-3 win over the Raiders. Trimble’s Robbie Brooks (photo below, right) looks to first after sliding into second as Rebels’ second baseman Gage Hartman begins his throw to first on a double play attempt. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
Trimble County’s Michael Dunaway (above) smiles in disbelief after his 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the seventh was called a ball to walk in the game-winning run for Southwestern in a 4-3 win over the Raiders. Trimble’s Robbie Brooks (photo below, right) looks to first after sliding into second as Rebels’ second baseman Gage Hartman begins his throw to first on a double play attempt. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
When Southwestern's Cory O'Neal stood in for a bases-loaded, three-two pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning, there was perhaps nobody in the park who knew the strike zone better than the Rebels' catcher.

That still didn't make it any easier - or less tense - for O'Neal to take on a low fastball just off the outside corner of the plate. But that's exactly what he did and the result was a walk-off-walk that capped a 4-3 comeback win over Trimble County in Hanover.

"It was probably that far off the plate," O'Neal said, holding up two fingers about four inches apart. "I didn't think it would be a strike at all. There was no way ... but I was still kind of worried about it."

"I bet he was nervous. I know I was, too," Rebels head coach Derik Hutton said of the game-winning play.

"It was tough to see, from where I was at, whether it was a strike or not," Hutton added. "It looked pretty good, but Cory gets to see that perspective all game. He's catching so he knows the zone and if he says it's out, it's out and that was a good at-bat."

The pitch capped what was a rough ending to an otherwise quality outing for the Raiders. Trimble limited the Rebels to just three hits and carried a 3-1 lead into the home seventh before the wheels fell off to open the door for the Southwestern.

Trimble County's Kyle Spark was just three outs from a complete game two-hitter when he committed one of the cardinal sins of baseball by walking leadoff batter Matt Schwartz- the Rebels' No. 8 hitter at that.

As is often the case in such meltdowns, the Raiders compounded their problems by bobbling the catch at second on a seemingly surefire double play ball to put the tying run on base before Sparks gave up the only well-hit ball of the game to Southwestern's Darius Whitson-Spegal to score Schwartz and make it 3-2.

When Sparks walked his second man of the inning, Southwestern pitcher Brad Sims, Trimble coach Frank Ragland turned the ball over to his big freshman reliever, Michael Dunaway, with the bases loaded and still no outs.

MacKenzy Withered greeted the freshman with a slow grounder to second. Even with the Raider infield playing in, the hit produced a throw to the plate that was too late and tied the game 3-3 still with no outs.

Dunaway then fanned Caleb Rogers and Gage Hartman back-to-back to stand an out away from sending the game into extra innings with O'Neal coming to the plate.

O'Neal worked the count to 3-2 - including a couple of foul offs - and then left the bat on his shoulder on a low fastball that just missed the strike zone outside to walk in the game winner to the disbelief of Dunaway and the protest of Ragland.

"Very disappointed," Ragland later said of the call. "I thought it was a strike but you can't tell from where I was. We coaches always think they're strikes when our guy's pitching. When we're batting we don't think they're strikes and when we're pitching we do. That's the way it is. That's the way it goes.

"It was one of those should of, could of, would ofs," Ragland added. "When you go into the bottom of the seventh with a two-run lead you've got to think you can hold it and we didn't.

"We had them," Ragland added. "No reason we shouldn't have been able to go out there and finish that one off. Our pitcher was still strong but he goes out there and walks the leadoff batter - the No. 8 batter - and then we botch a double play ball and next thing you know the bases are loaded and no outs and the top of the order coming up."

"He did a great job," Hutton said of O'Neal. "He worked the count and got it deep and he forced their pitcher to throw strikes and when you do that sometimes you end up on the good end of it.

"We've come from behind several times this year," Hutton added. "We sometimes get things going late. I think it says a lot about our kids. They don't give up ... with these guys I never feel like we're out of it. They're not going to give in and just quit."

On the other hand, Trimble started early. The Raiders plated their first run in the top of the first after a leadoff double by Jordan Tingle and a single by Evan Young set the table for Zack Beard's RBI sacrifice fly.

Southwestern answered in the bottom of the first when Sparks issued back-to-back walks and Trimble overthrew first on a fielder's choice to shortstop that scored Sims for a 1-1 tie.

While Southwestern remained quiet until the bottom of the seventh, Trimble tacked on a run each in the fourth and fifth innings to ease out to the 3-1 cushion.

In the fourth, Zack Beard singled to right with one out, advanced to second on a pickoff throw that got away at first and then scored when Sims bobbled Conner Beard's comebacker to the mound and threw wild to first.

In the fifth, Trimble got a leadoff single by Hunter Duncan before benefiting from a two-out error at shortstop that set the table for Zack Beard's RBI single to left and a 3-1 lead.

"We scored a few runs but we missed a lot of opportunities during the game to score some more runs," Ragland said. "We had runners on base in a couple of innings with our three, four and five hitters up and didn't get anything."

"Brad Sims battled and gave us a chance in the end to come back," Hutton said. "We don't need a lot of runs when our starting pitchers do that."

And while the Rebels were a pretty quiet group for much of the game, Hutton said he's come to expect that as much as he expects that the team will battle, albeit quietly, to the end.

"We've got six seniors who play. We're a senior-dominated team but they're not vocal," Hutton said. "A lot of these guys lead with their play ... we're never going to be the loudest team but hopefully we'll be the last team standing."

Trimble County rapped out five hits with Zack Beard leading the way with two singles while Tingle had the only extra base hit with the double. Southwestern got singles from Schwartz, Withered and Whitson-Spegal.

Sparks pitched six innings of three hit baseball with six walks and three strikeouts to take the loss. Dunaway struck out two and walked one.

Sims went the distance for Southwestern, striking out three and walking two while allowing five hits to get the win.

Both teams are at home today with Trimble hosting South Oldham and Southwestern hosting Jac-Cen-Del.