Osbourn Park sophomore Jack Shepard acknowledges that he was jittery at the plate with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of a tied first-round Virginia AAA Northwest Region tournament game at Osbourn on Friday evening.
His teammates urged him to settle down, but that wasn’t enough. He called in some reinforcements.
“I was just praying,” said Shepard, whose two-run single paved the way for the Yellow Jackets’ eventual 7-6 win. “Like, help me out. Throw me a bone. Everything was going through my head. I guess it worked.”
“He might have been nervous, but I have all the confidence in the world in him,” Osbourn Park Coach Rod Hodgson said. “Whenever he’s at the plate, I’m thinking to myself, right man, right spot.”
Despite scoring three runs in the top of the eighth to go up 7-4, Osbourn Park still had hang on through some tense moments. Osbourn loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning and got an RBI single from senior Cody Jewell; another run scored when the Yellow Jackets overran that hit in the outfield.
That left runners on the corners for senior Brendan Howell, who had doubled in two runs in the third inning. He flied out to center to end the game.
Osbourn Park (16-7) advances to play at Commonwealth District champion Colonial Forge (18-5) at 6 p.m. Friday in a region quarterfinal.
The Yellow Jackets start five sophomores, and it was one of those 10th-graders who sent the game into extra innings. Second baseman Saul Aguilera stroked a two-run, two-out single in the top of the seventh to tie the game 4-4.
Osbourn Park senior left-hander Scott Halsey struck out 11 batters in seven innings, and senior Brent Wagner threw the eighth. Halsey left school early Friday with a migraine and told Hodgson on the two-mile bus ride to Osbourn that he was not sure he was going to be able to take the mound.
“Bloodshot eyes, the whole nine yards,” Hodgson said. “I’m looking at him and [thinking], this kid is sick.”
Halsey’s medication kicked in, his eyes cleared up and Hodgson said it was the lefty’s call whether to pitch or not. During the game, Halsey’s father, Trigg, seated outside the fence by the Yellow Jackets’ dugout, implored his son to stay out of the sun when he was not on the field, all the better to avoid another migraine.
What did pain the Yellow Jackets early in the game was leaving the bases loaded in three of the first four innings and scoring only two runs, in the first, on RBI hits by Shepard and Wagner. Every Osbourn Park starter had at least one hit.
Osbourn (12-10) managed only three hits off Halsey and another off Wagner.
The schools are practically walkable and the game had a rivalry feel, but because they play in different districts and did not schedule each other for the regular season, there was an unfamiliarity factor as well between the teams.
“Coming over here, I didn’t know where to throw anybody,” Halsey said. “So I was trying to bust a fastball by everybody. It worked for the most part.”
Osbourn Coach Keith Howell was in the odd position of standing in the third base coach’s box with his son, the team’s No. 3 hitter, at the plate with the team’s season — and perhaps his coaching tenure — coming to an end.
There’s been speculation that Howell might step down after 17 seasons. The 2002 All-Met coach of the year said that’s a decision he’d be making in the coming weeks.
“I have no doubts about being in that box and watching [Brendan] being the possible last out,” Howell said. “Didn’t cross my mind. I wouldn’t want anyone [else]. I know how tough he is at the plate, where he’s come from as a hitter. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and he plays with confidence.”