With two outs, two runners aboard and his team down a run, Jeff Rice nodded his head as he walked to the plate in the ninth inning.
The Augusta State slugger went hitless in his first four at-bats. Now, he savored his opportunity.
“Baseball is a funny game,” Rice said. “Part of being a baseball player is waiting for that at-bat.”
Rice plated a pair of runs with a liner to center and the Jaguars shocked Carson-Newman, 5-4, in their season opener Friday at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
Augusta State collected just six hits in the game, Seth Foster, Clay Tucker and Matt Smith recording two hits apiece. Despite starter Scott Shipman’s strong showing in six innings (two runs, five hits), the bullpen allowed a pair of runs the final three innings. Wilson Taylor pitched the final two innings, allowing one earned run, to pick up the win.
The Jaguars trailed by one in the ninth when leadoff hitter Preston Pye was hit by a pitch. After Justin Thigpen’s sacrifice bunt moved Pye to second, the Eagles attempted a trick play. Closer Ryan Fillers faked a pickoff throw to second, the middle infielders acting like the ball sailed into the outfield. Pye, who once saw his Lakeside High School team lose to Greenbrier on the same play, didn’t buy it.
So after Caleb Saggus grounded out, Pye took third. Then, Kevin Dodson was hit by pitch, sending Augusta State’s No. 3 hitter in the lineup to the plate.
With two outs, Rice blasted a fastball to center field, hitting the ball slightly off the handle. Playing shallow, Cody Fox turned his back toward the infield and started chasing down the ball to his left. Fox twisted around and poked his glove out at the last minute. The ball caromed off his glove and to the ground.
“I saw the center fielder looking for a compass,” Pye said. “When I saw him turn around, I knew he was in trouble.”
Pye scored to tie the game and Dodson darted all the way from first to score the winning run.
“If this is any indication of how the season’s going to be, I’m going to be either bald-headed or gray-haired at the end of the year,” Jaguars coach Chris Cooper said. “Our motto is to play until the umpire tells us to go home. We did that today.”
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645