West Monroe coaches called it the play of the year. And given the stage and context, who could argue?
With runners on first and second with no outs, West Monroe clung to a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh inning of Game 3. Winner take all.
Just one night after giving up a home run to Gabe Larry in relief, Cole Brasher found himself staring at Larry again with the season on the line. He took a deep breath and delivered to the plate, and Larry crushed a ball to deep right field.
Rebel outfielder Kade Pittard chased the ball and left his feet, stretching as far as he could to make what turned out to be a game-saving catch.
The ball was so far away from Pittard off the bat that Parkway base runners were a fourth of a way from the next base. Pittard collected the ball and easily doubled up the base runner at first base.
“I just laid out, and God helped me,” Pittard said. “It’s a dream. You dream about that. If I miss it, game over.”
From the mound, Brasher went from the agony of defeat to the sweet thrill of victory in seconds, though he was still one out away from finishing the job.
“I ain’t going to lie. I thought it was over,” Brasher said. “And then Air Pittard came out of Egypt and made the catch. Air Pittard. That’s his nickname now.”
There must be something to the old adage “practice makes perfect” because West Monroe players can attest, they’ve practiced making diving catches on repeat after failing to live up to the standard of West Monroe baseball early into the season.
“Every day we take our ground balls, but we implemented fly balls in the gaps, on the lines and we don’t let the ball hit the ground,” Simoneaux said. “That’s been the mentality we’ve been practicing with because we were bad in the outfield. Balls were dropping, and we weren’t making diving efforts. And to be honest with you, it pissed me off.”
The Rebel outfielders got the message, and were all the better for it when it mattered most. But Simoneaux had one last message to give in this second round series.
Brasher collected himself after the play brought those gathered in Shelby Aulds Field to their feet. With runners on, Simoneaux met him on the mound and kept it rather simple.
“I said overpower him. I don’t care about any runners,” Simoneaux said. “I said, ‘It’s you vs. him.’ And he struck him out.”
West Monroe players swarmed both Brasher and Pittard after the victory. Pittard's catch highlighted a 4-3 victory that now sends the No. 2 (24-8) Rebels into a showdown with No. 10 Dutchtown in the quarterfinals.
Whatever momentum was gained by Parkway in a 5-4 Game 2 victory earlier in the day was quickly erased with Reed Eason’s bat in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. On the first at bat in the bottom of the first inning, Eason crushed a solo shot to put the Rebels on the board, 1-0. Josh Pearson, who reached on a walk, stole home to give the Rebels a 2-0 edge.
Parkway cut into the Rebels lead with Zach Schoenborn’s RBI double in the second inning. A Hayden Knotts solo homer one inning later tied the game, 2-2.
But West Monroe’s offense remained active. Eason stayed hot with a single to lead off the bottom of the third. Hayden Federico followed with a double and Pearson’s sacrifice fly put the Rebels back in front. Trey Hawsey singled in Federico to give the Rebels a 4-2 edge.
A wild sequence unfolded in the fourth inning. Parkway got one on with an error. A chopper to third was handled well by Federico, who looked the run back before throwing to first. The runner took off as soon as Federico threw, but Cole Brasher threw the Parkway base runner out at home for an inning-ending double play.
The superb defense continued. In the very next inning, with one runner on first and one out, Logan Shurden let an infield popup fall beside him. He grabbed it off the bounce and tossed it to second to start and end the inning.
Seth Edwards held Parkway to two runs all the way until the seventh inning before handing the ball over to Cole Brasher, following an error and a double.
West Monroe's 4-3 victory was a bounce-back effort after falling to Parkway, 5-4, earlier in the day.
West Monroe clung to a 3-2 lead in Game 2 before Parkway’s Zach Schoenborn hit a 3-run homer to swing the game in favor of the Panthers.
West Monroe chipped at the lead in the fifth inning when Tanner Young knocked in a run with a single.