A memorable rally, an unforgettable catch and a Roy Hobbs moments might all add up to a big turning point in the season for the Trail Jays.
The Jays opened up their North Idaho American Legion Baseball schedule on Wednesday with a split against the Prairie Cardinals at Butler Park.
The Cardinals, who came to Trail on the heels of sweeping the Lewiston Twins on Sunday, overcame some solid pitching by Dallas Calvin to score a 5-1 win in the opening game at Butler Park.
Even though Calvin struck out the first four Prairie batters he faced, the Cardinals eventually got to the starter and the Jays couldn’t respond.
“We didn’t do enough to put pressure on them,” admitted manager Nick Combo.
However, that all changed in the second half of Wednesday’s doubleheader.
The Jays rallied from a 5-3 deficit with five runs in the bottom of the sixth then ended the game when Scott Davidson’s diving catch in centrefield began a game-ending double play to seal the 8-5 win.
The victory ended the Jays’ nine-game losing streak, put them at 1-1 in NIAL play and provided a huge boost of confidence for the young lineup.
“It was a big win and got the monkey off our backs,” said Combo. “A lot of guys stepped up and delivered.”
All the ingredients were there for the win – solid pitching from starter Tyrus Jocko, minimal errors from the defence, clutch hitting and patience at the plate.
“And it was important to get that momentum on our side,” added the Jays’ bench boss. “We have two games against Cranbrook on Sunday.”
That’s a team the Jays expect to beat. However, the Jays knew they had their hands full against a tough Prairie lineup.
The first game started off well for Jays as Calvin struck out the side, three of six strikeouts he had in the game. However, Prairie responded in the top of the second thanks to a series of passed balls and wild pitches, which led to two runs.
Jocko got one back for Trail in the bottom of the second with a lead off double, Trail’s only hit in the game. He would eventually cross the plate on Tanner Rotschy’s fielder’s choice to cut the deficit to 2-1. It stayed that way until the fifth when Prairie put together three singles and cashed in on a Trail error to score three times and lock up the 5-1 win.
The second game was unfolding in similar fashion as Prairie built up a 3-0 lead on Jays’ starter Davidson while their pitcher, Dylan Charboneau was working on a no-hitter after three complete inning.
The Jays finally took flight in the fourth. Geoff Soukeroff ended the no-hit bid but was thrown out at second. Then Calvin singled, Jocko doubled and Jarret Conway walked and eventually all three would score as Charboneau began to lose his control. A hit a batter, a walk and a wild pitch to successive batters all led to the RBIs.
Tied 3-3, Prairie responded in the top of the fifth with base runners and two solid hits that produced a pair of RBIs to put the visitors up 5-3.
That set the stage for the late-game heroics.
With runners in scoring position, Lukas Thatcher stepped up a delivered a huge single, which brought home Ryan Giesler and Jake Lucchini to tie the game.
Charboneau exited the game but his relief didn’t fare any better and loaded the bases for Calvin to slam the first pitch he saw for an RBI single and give Trail a 6-5 lead.
It went from bad to worse for the Cards as a passed ball on a third strike and a wild pitch brought home two more Trail base runners to give the Jays an 8-5 lead.
Before the Jays’ extended at bat ended, Conway delivered a quasi-Roy Hobbs moment when his foul ball went straight up and shattered a light and rained down broken glass on to the Cardinals dugout.
It wasn’t quite the ending from the movie “The Natural,” but it did foreshadow a highlight reel finish.
Soukeroff came on in the top of the seventh to nail down the win. But after a lead off walk, the Cards felt that fate might be back on their side.
Soukeroff got one out on a fielder’s choice and then Davidson turned a potential momentum shifting moment into a diving catch on a sinking line drive and doubled off the runner to end the game in spectacular fashion.
Jocko picked up the win while Calvin went 3-4 at the plate and Conway scored two runs.
Combo didn’t hesitate when asked if the two games were Trail’s best effort of the season so far.
“I think we competed well in both games.”
He added that with such a young team it’s important to savour and remember these moments and build on the experience.
The Jays won’t have to wait long to put their newfound confidence to the test. They’ll host the Cranbrook Bandits Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Butler Park.