By Brian Paglia
After their teams split a doubleheader in the first round of the Class AAAA tournament Friday, both Ola coach Ryan Parejko and Hardaway coach Tracy Powell talked about living to fight another day, but they did so with vastly different perspectives.
Parejko lamented the missed opportunities and fielding gaffes characteristic of the 9-6 defeat in Game Two that forced a deciding Game Three today at 1 p.m. Powell relished his team's spirit and resolve after relinquishing a nine-run lead in Game One that Ola eventually won 14-11.
Ola (24-4) came in as the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAAA, a distinction it holds for the first time in its four years of existence, but Hardaway (14-10) came in with more history, with five region championships and five semifinals appearances during Powell's 16 years as head coach.
And the third-seeded Hawks played up to their history to start Game One. Hardaway got four straight hits off Ola starter Darryl Dickey to take a 2-0 lead. The Hawks chased Dickey three batters into the second after D'Andre Toney's bases-clearing triple to right field.
By the time reliever Grant Perkins ended the inning, Hardaway had sent 14 batters to the plate and built a 10-1 lead.
"We've never been down that much," said Ola second baseman C.J. McDowell, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs in Game One.
Confronted with a new and dire situation, the Mustangs responded with aplomb. Behind an RBI double by McDowell and two-run single by Neal Gandee, the Mustangs cut the lead to 10-5 at the end of the second.
A three-run home run by Bobby Woodall on a hanging curveball from Hardaway starter Brandon Phillips gave Ola an 11-10 lead in the third and new life.
"I told them there's a lot of baseball left to be played," Parejko said, "so you've got to stay focused and keep playing. They played well and fought back."
Powell said he told the Hawks after Game One that "their backs were to the wall, and if they wanted to live to play another day they were going to have to play their best."
They played better. Hardaway erupted for four runs in the third thanks to four consecutive two-out hits to take a 6-2 lead. Starter Easton Gilbert pitched a complete game, working out of trouble in spots.
Nursing a 6-5 lead, Ola stranded runners on first and second in the fifth. Kyle Beech advanced to second on a throwing error to start the sixth, but Gilbert induced three straight pop ups.
With a 9-5 lead in the seventh, Gilbert hit a batter, walked another and allowed a long single to load the bases with one out and the tying run at the plate. Though a run came in on a fielder's choice, a weak pop up ended the game.
Few things went well for Ola late Friday night. But there was still good news for Ola and its state championship aspirations.
"The good thing is we get to play baseball again," Parejko said. "So (Saturday), it's one game, we'll just come out there with our best effort and see what happens."