By Brian Paglia
Mt. Zion had been enjoying their game against Forest Park long before Marc Threat stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth inning.
Baseball is fun when every player in the lineup reaches base and scores at least twice, when pitcher Rummel Victor can walk off the mound unable to conceal a smile after befuddling another Panthers batter with his curveball, when a team that allowed 31 runs in two games last week can nearly equal that in one game.
Not long after Threat walked to the plate to lead off the sixth inning was he back in the Bulldogs dugout.
He walked, then scored when the next batter, Joel Williams, doubled to deep left.
From the dugout Threat watched a typical pattern of events unfold for Mt. Zion - a walk, an error and two singles. This time when Threat walked from the on-deck circle to the batter's box, the bases were loaded. Despite a 15-run lead, Mt. Zion found a way to keep a game without the pretense of competition entertaining.
Threat had no need for patience, to work a count, to battle with the pitcher. He swung, skying a fastball over the right-centerfield fence for a grand slam, a fitting encore to Mt. Zion's 25-5 victory at Forest Park in six innings in a Region 4-AAAA game.
"Hard to put it into words, but it feels pretty good," Threat said about his grand slam. "I was actually a little upset that we were still playing, so I guess I let it out with my bat."
Wednesday night's win extended Mt. Zion's winning streak to three games, furthering itself from a disastrous stretch of five straight losses that put its postseason chances in peril.
That stretch began after the Bulldogs (9-7, 4-4) endured the loss of three key players. Without them, Forest Park (0-13, 0-5) faired better. They admirably fell 7-6 to Mt. Zion on March 18. So the Bulldogs relished the chance to remind Forest Park, and itself, how formidable they are to face when all their parts are in place.
The reminder came in the second inning. Mt. Zion sent 16 batters to the plate. The Bulldogs walked twice, were hit by a pitch, reached base twice on errors and executed short bunt singles twice. Third baseman Chris Carroll had two doubles and four RBIs in the inning.
When the chaos settled, the Bulldogs had scored 10 runs. The cosmos were back in order.
"I think we kind of slacked off a little last time, let these guys jump out early on us," Mt. Zion coach Art Wilkerson said. "This game we came out early and scored a bunch of runs, so it was definitely a better effort than we did last time against Forest Park."
These are the sort of nights that engender belief in Mt. Zion that it can conquer the dominant teams from Henry, Spalding and Newton counties. Against those teams - Griffin, Dutchtown, Ola and Alcovy - the Bulldogs are 0-3 and have been outscored 48-11. They know without at least one win against those four, the playoffs are unreachable.
But to see Threat knock in six runs, to see Carroll go 4-for-5 with 6 RBIs, to see Joel Williams with four hits, Reggie Mitchell and Marcus Swint with three each and Victor throwing six solid innings suggests Mt. Zion has plans.
They say it starts this Friday, against Griffin, who defeated them 17-7 in their first meeting.
As it embarks on the final leg of the season, Mt. Zion faces games against Griffin, Dutchtown, Ola and two against Alcovy.
But they do it with a new resolve and a new confidence.
"We want to take care of Griffin. I think finally our guys believe that we can play with them," Wilkerson said. "That's the key, just getting to where we believe we can play with them. And I think they know now that they can play with them and play with anybody. We just can't let little mistakes beat us. We have got to play our A-game, which is very possible."