As Monday's semifinal baseball game rolled into the eighth and ninth innings, it became a battle of the trenches and a test of mental strength.
El Dorado's baseball team jumped out to a 3-0 lead halfway through the fourth inning, but the Orioles came back with three of their own to tie it. In the extra innings, the Wildcats took a 4-3 lead, but the Orioles responded in the bottom of the eighth to tie it again.
El Dorado again kept the pressure with a run in the ninth, but this time, the Orioles finally ran out of answers. The Wildcats stranded an Oriole runner on second base to clinch a 5-4 victory and advance to play Andover Central in the regional championship.
"We were playing catch up the entire game. El Dorado played a great game," coach Doug Jefferson said. "Jumped up, got three on us in the third, we had to catch back up, and it was that way the whole game. We just never could get the lead."
Down 4-3, Augusta missed its chance for the win in the bottom of the eighth. Connor Hurst ripped a triple, then scored after Mason Hiser lined an RBI single down the left-field line to tie it 4-4. Jefferson called a bunt to get Hiser to second for the Oriole' first out. Michael Albright singled, then reached second after a Wildcat error put runners on second and third. An intentional walk loaded the bases with one out for the Orioles, but El Dorado freshman pitcher Cole Roberts came through with a strikeout and a groundout to save the Wildcats' season.
Roberts then turned around and doubled in the Wildcats' ninth and scored the go-ahead run when Gage Armstrong dropped in an RBI single to shallow center field.
The Orioles got a single in the bottom of the ninth, but Roberts retired the next three Orioles to clinch the game on El Dorado's home field at McDonald Stadium.
"Someone has to step up to get the big hit, make the big play, whatever it is, but we have to find ways to win. Can't wait on other people," Jefferson said.
At the start of the game, neither Augusta's nor El Dorado's offense pieced much together through two innings. The Orioles had hits by Hiser and Albright, but El Dorado ended the first inning with a double play and stranded Albright in the second inning.
Dacota Motter led off El Dorado's second with a double, then got to third on a grounder, but Hiser got two straight strikeouts to end the threat.
Armstrong knocked a single to the outfield with two outs, then stole second in El Dorado's third. Spencer Dodson drew a walk to get two runners on, but Hiser struck out Easton Smith to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
The Wildcats came alive in the fourth. Braeden Henderson hit a single, then got to second after Zac Ruff drew a walk. Ridge Towner drove in Henderson with an RBI single for the first run of the game. Two batters later, Motter rocked a two-RBI double to deep center to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead.
Augusta came right back with three of its own in the bottom half of the inning. Hiser walked, Gavin Hutson was hit by a pitch and Albright dropped in an infield single to load the bases. Two batters later, Dustyn McEachern came through with an opposite-field, two-RBI bloop single. Albright later scored on a double steal. El Dorado tried to throw him out, but there was a drop on the relay throw.
Augusta had a chance to score in the fifth, but came up empty. Cody Wesbrooks hit a lead-off single up the middle. Two batters later, Connor Hurst lined a single to get runners on first and second. They advanced to second and third with two outs on a grounder, but the Wildcats got another grounder to get out of the jam.
Only two Wildcats had more than one hit. Armstrong and Henderson both were 2-for-5 with an RBI apiece.The Wildcats had three doubles and eight total hits.
Hiser led the Orioles with three hits and an RBI. Hurst was 2-for-4, Albright had two infield singles and finished 3-for-4, and Cody Wesbrooks was 2-for-4 for Augusta.
While the Orioles lose just two seniors and only one four-year starter, Augusta came up short of its expectations at the beginning of the season. Having the off-the-field issues the Oriole dealt with didn't make things easier, but next year's team will be looking for a payoff season with several key starters who will be seniors.
"It was a roller coaster," Jefferson said of the Orioles' season. "Our highs were pretty high and lows were pretty low. We just have to be more consistent."