BRISTOL, Va. – After nearly 22 months without baseball, no one was complaining about a little extra baseball on Friday night.
Nolan Sailor scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning, lifting the Trojans to a pulsating 8-7 Mountain 7 District victory over Gate City in the first game at Battle Field since May 31, 2019.
After missing the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a sense of excitement from both teams and a sizable audience that enjoyed a competitive game.
“It was crazy,” John Battle junior John-Alan Richardson said. “When we were warming up it is just the most surreal feeling knowing that we are playing baseball for John Battle again. It felt nice.”
In a game that featured 15 runs, 21 hits, seven errors and four lead changes, the Trojans had a runner called out at the plate earlier in the eighth inning, but loaded the bases and secured the victory when a pitch by Carson Jenkins to Ryan Mix eluded freshman catcher Luke Bledsoe and Sailor hustled in from third base to score the winning run.
Gate City (1-1), which opened the season with a 17-0 win over Union on Tuesday, took a 7-6 lead in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Jake Taylor before the Trojans (1-0) tied it in the bottom of that frame on a passed ball.
“That is what I tell the kids. With high school baseball, put the ball in play and good things will happen,” Gate City head coach Jonathon Salyer said. “I told them this team isn’t going to strike out much, they are going to put the ball in play and make you make plays and that is what they did.”
Five straight hits to start the game led to a 3-0 first inning lead for Gate City on RBI singles by Ryan Jessee and Carter Babb, and one of four John Battle errors. John Battle went up 4-3, scoring once in the first on a double by Richardson, and added three in the second on a RBI single by Bryson Almany and two-run single from Zach Smith, who will play college baseball at King.
No one seemed to enjoy their time back on the baseball field more than Richardson.
“It is amazing, it is a pleasure of mine, I love it so much,” he said. “Throughout the whole game we try to keep our energy up because once your energy goes down your team goes down. We had a bad start, but we were able to keep our energy up, we were able to stay in it and eventually win the game.”
Gate City went back up 6-4 on a pair of John Battle errors, with the Trojans tying it at 6-6 in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by Jacob Hutton and ground ball out by Gavin Ratliff.
“I don’t know if you call that fun. Holly molly, as a head coach who has done a lot of baseball, I will tell you, hats off to Gate City, that was one heck of a ball game,” said John Battle head coach Jimmy Gobble, who spent seven seasons pitching for the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox. “A little distance and a little separation with some of the errors and defensive stuff, but their pitchers did an excellent job. The whole combination, Noah Sills really stepping up and giving us some quality innings helped.”
Sills replaced Zach Smith on the mound in the fifth and allowed just the Taylor RBI single in the sixth. He pitched the final 5 1/3 innings, and his defense played error-free the rest of the game.
“He is absolutely amazing, I love watching the guy pitch,” said Richardson, who played third base and shortstop for the Trojans. “I love playing defense behind him more than anyone.”
Taylor replaced Ryan Jessee in the fifth for Gate City, and was able to get out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in a thrilling end to the sixth. Taylor fielded a bouncer back to the mound by Will Purifoy and retired the runner trying to score at the plate, but Bledsoe’s throw to first for a potential double play eluded Babb. Babb retrieved it and made a perfect throw home to retire Sailor trying to score from second base.
“It was a real exciting game. They had several plays, we had a double play there at home and another play where we kept the go-ahead run from scoring. It was a blast,” Salyer said. “[Babb] recovered good and made a great throw from way back there with a strike to home plate.
“We made some plays, they made some plays, they just made one more than we did.”
While Sills retired the final seven batters he faced to pick up the win, John Battle couldn’t score in the seventh with runners on second and third, but finally pushed across the game winner in the eighth.
Not a bad way to start the season for the Trojans, who had a shaky start, but finished on top.
“We just want to have fun again and perform,” Richardson said. “I wouldn’t call it nervous, I would just say we had first game jitters, but they are gone now and we are good.”
Smith led John Battle’s 10-hit attack with three hits and two RBIs. Mix and Sills also had two hits for the Trojans.
“They are young, but give us a couple of weeks,” Gobble said. “I think we will shore up some defensive stuff, but I will tell you, that was a fun ball game to be a part of it.”
Gate City had 11 hits, including two each by Ethan Fleming, Trevor Herron, Taylor and Bledsoe. Babb scored two runs in the loss.
“We got to play Tuesday, but haven’t played in a year in a half until Tuesday and then we get to come out and play today and play in a great game like that, it was pretty fun,” Salyer said. “They made one more play than we did.”
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