Naylor claims OFC title for first time in 30 years
It’s been 30 years.
Backed by a strong pitching performance from Chase Sarabia and a comeback-crushing double play by Damian Thilman, Naylor beat Neelyville 4-2 for the Eagles’ first Ozark Foothills Conference Tournament championship since 1989.
“This is freaking awesome,” Naylor senior Caleb Dealba said. “We haven’t done this in forever. To be able to have a banner in the gym every time we walk in there, it feels good.”
As the third seed, the Eagles beat sixth-seeded Greenville 16-10 in the quarterfinals, then upset second-seeded Clearwater 11-1 in the semifinals before facing fourth-seeded Neelyville.
“I’m a little speechless,” Naylor coach James Bond said. “I’m really proud of the boys. Thirty years, that’s as old as I am, and we finally brought one home to Naylor.”
The tournament marks a turnaround for the program. The Eagles have 21 total wins in the fall for the past two years and had 18 total wins from 2012-2017.
“It means everything to me. It has been a long time since Naylor has done anything great. I’m so proud of our team and the way we played,” Naylor senior Seth Jones said.
Neelyville was also much-improved this fall after going 2-17 last fall.
“It’s a vast improvement over where we were last fall,” Neelyville coach Tyler Thompson said. “Getting to .500 and playing in the conference championship, it’s pretty impressive for this group of guys. Pretty much the same team, so hats off to them for their hard work and their dedication. We’ll get back to work and get prepared for the spring.”
Sarabia allowed four hits, five walks and three hit batters in the win. Through five innings, he had a two-hit shutout going.
“I asked him to come out and throw strikes,” Bond said. “He kept his composure great. They didn’t hit the ball real well and we managed to come away with the victory. I’m real proud of him, he did a good job.”
The Tigers nearly got on board in the third inning when they had runners on second and third with one out.
The Eagles (10-5) intentionally walked No. 3 hitter Parker Jeffries, and then Sarabia got a comebacker and tagged out the lead runner to escape.
It was the first of six straight outs that Sarabia had a part in.
On a sacrifice bunt with nobody out in the fourth, Sarabia chased down the baseball and threw from his knees to third base to get the lead runner. After a walk, he then leaped to snare a high bounce and turned a 1-6-3 double play.
Sarabia fielded another groundout to start the sixth, got a strikeout, and finally got to watch his defense work as Jones threw from third to first to end the inning.
The Tigers (12-12) finally broke through with two runs in the sixth.
Lane Crosswhite was hit by a pitch and Ryan Armes singled to leadoff the inning, and both advanced into scoring position on a groundout.
Austin Sheppard singled to left and Crosswhite scored easily.
Ryley Cage Armes, pinch-running for Ryan Armes, rounded third and slipped.
As he was getting up, the throw home went into the backstop, so he raced home and slid headfirst for a second run.
“Overall we had good at-bats. We hit some balls hard. Some of them were right at guys,” Thompson said. “One hit in there we probably tie it up somewhere, but that’s credit to Naylor. They’re a good team, they didn’t make mistakes, and when they had to make a play someone stepped up and made plays.”
The Tigers had the tying run on first base after a walk, but Naylor got a popup to the catcher to get out of the inning.
Heading into the seventh, Sarabia was getting dangerously close to the max pitch count of 105. So much so that he warmed up a potential relief pitcher, his younger brother Cameron Sarabia, between innings.
Austin Ennis led off the seventh for Neelyville and didn’t do Chase Sarabia any favors by drawing a full-count walk.
This brought Jeffries, who had drawn two walks, to the plate as the tying run.
He lined a 2-2 pitch to the right side, but Thilman lunged for the catch and threw to first for a double play.
“A freshman at second base making that double play, I felt like that was the turning point,” Bond said. “I felt like they had a little bit of momentum right there, and the ball, sometimes it goes in your glove and sometimes it doesn’t. I feel like we got lucky right there. It was a good play and I feel like we were in good shape.”
As Crosswhite stepped to the plate, Sarabia was sitting at 104 pitches. One pitch short of his limit. He could finish the at-bat, but either he’d go the bench with the tying run at the plate and his brother on the mound, or he’d celebrate the win.
It ended up being the later, as Sarabia got one last strikeout, delivering a second OFC championship trophy to Naylor.
Jones scored twice for Naylor after drawing walks in three of his four at-bats.
Matt Rigdon doubled to left in the third inning to score Jones and Cody Jones, who reached on an error.
In the fourth, Cody Jones hit a long fly ball to the gap in right-center field to score Seth Jones.
Hunter Robinson, courtesy running for Rigdon, added a fourth run in the fifth. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a passed ball.
Austin Ennis pitched in the loss and allowed five hits and seven walks with seven strikeouts. He was relieved after walking Seth Jones to lead off the sixth inning, and JD Burton got a strikeout and didn’t allow a baserunner in one inning of relief.
“I think it gives us a whole new mindset (going into the spring),” Naylor senior Chase King said. “We have something going here and we can keep it going into the spring, work over the offseason and go into districts. Win that, too.”
Naylor most recently won three straight district titles from 2011-13 but has not had a winning record in the spring since.
East Carter 7, Clearwater 0
The top-seeded Redbirds (10-9) scored five runs in the fifth inning and allowed four hits as they won the third-place game in the OFC Tournament on Thursday at Roger Pattillo Field.
Alex Kearbey and Raymond Ochoa each had two hits for East Carter, which had seven hits as a team. Kearbey also drove in two runs, as did Jake Wilder and Jacob Saffle. Ochoa scored twice and pitched in the win. He had five strikeouts and didn’t give up a walk.
Second-seeded Clearwater (10-4) committed three errors in the game. Karson Fay, Jackson Eaton, Benton Lashley and Jorden Eaton each had a hit. Fay and Jackson Eaton doubled.
Trey Rivas pitched five innings in the loss and allowed seven hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.