St. Stephens rallies past West Caldwell to keep playoff hopes alive

Michael Christopher
Sports Editor

HICKORY – For the fourth straight game, the St. Stephens varsity baseball team rallied late for a key win with a 2-1 victory Friday against West Caldwell.
The victory was an important one as it helps the Indians keep pace in the Northwestern 3A/4A playoff chase. Saint is behind Alexander Central in the 3A standings for the No. 2 playoff spot and holds a tiebreaker over Hickory having swept them.
"We had four seniors start tonight. We had a lot of young guys, a lot of sophomores up. We're starting to learn a little bit. We're really starting to jell," St. Stephens head baseball coach Adam Windham said. "We've got a ton of confidence win after win after win after win coming from behind to win in the seventh inning or eighth inning. So we're playing with a lot of confidence right now and working at getting better every day."
West Caldwell (2-18, 1-11) appeared to have all the moment for the first six innings.
The Warriors loaded the bases with no outs to open the game thanks to a leadoff walk and back-to-back singles. Thomas Melton collected an RBI groundout to take an early 1-0 lead.
West Caldwell then got themselves into a pickle-- three times. Both Cy Smith and Cody Baker got picked off attempting to score to end the threat. Then in the top of the second, Ben Jones also was picked off for the final out of the inning before teammate Colt Greer was able to cross home. And finally, in the fifth inning, Shawn Hendrix was picked off attempting to move to third base following a sacrifice bunt.
The Warriors appeared to perhaps extend its lead in the sixth thanks to two St. Stephens errors. Colby Turmire reached base after striking out with two outs. Then Colt Greer reached on a throwing error by second baseman Nolan Walker. Both runners were allowed to take an extra base as the throw reached the dugout, moving the runners into scoring position.
The Indians scored to tie the game an odd sequence in the bottom of the sixth. Matt Walker struck out with the bases loaded and ran to first base. Josh Kidd went too far down third base where Chance Benfield occupied the base. The Warriors put Benfield in a pickle but he was able to run around the attempted tag of the Warriors catcher to score and tie the game at 1-1.
"You can see it in their eyes when a guy steps to the plate at the end of the game whether he's nervous or if he's not. All nine of our hitters you can see that they want that. They want that. They want to be the man," Windham said. "And every night it's a different guy. Every time we have a walk-off someone different steps up. That's a great thing, we're not relying on one guy. We've got a lot of guys that are going to pull their weight."
In the top of the seventh, St. Stephens starting pitcher JD Everett struck out the side holding the game and giving his offense a chance at a comeback. Everett threw a complete game effort allowing one earned run on six hits. He walked two and struck out 11.
"I think we've got a lot of really good guys on our team and they really buy into this program and really want to make a deep run in the playoffs," Everett said.
Owen Vansickle led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk. Everett singled down the third base line allowing Vansickle to take third and Everett took second on the throw. Logan Pope was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs. Following a strikeout, Josh Kidd laid down a safety squeeze that was fielded by the West Caldwell pitcher whose throw beat Vansickle to the plate, but the Warriors catcher dropped the ball allowing the game-winning run to score.
"We were going with the safety squeeze. I think the pitcher had been a little wild since he got in so I didn't want to give him an out if we missed it or he threw a ball so we went with the safety squeeze," the Indians coach said. "Josh has always been a great bunter in practice so I had a lot of confidence he'd get that down."
Offensively the Indians were led by Justin Bullock's two hits.
"Like JD said, all of our walk-offs have been by different people and we've just really bought into the mental toughness," the Saint senior said. "One of our core values is never giving up and everyone has really bought into that and it shows."
The Indians (11-7, 7-5) have two final conference games remaining beginning with a 6:30 p.m. scheduled contest at Watauga today and then hosting Alexander Central Thursday.
"That's really our focus, to hang onto that two seed, make sure we have an automatic playoff berth and we control our own destiny," the St. Stephens coach said. "As long as we come out here and play these last two games to the best of our ability good things are going to happen."