STEENS — Jacob Minga was having a miserable day at the plate. The Columbus Christian Academy senior struck out three times, twice looking, and now Tensas Academy did the unusual move of intentionally walking a batter with a runner on first to get to him.
And it backfired. Really, really backfired.
Tensas pitcher Chip Tucker walked Minga on four pitches, forcing in the winning run in the seventh inning during the Rams’ improbable 5-4 victory over the Chiefs in Game 1 of their MAIS Class 2A semifinal series.
With Tucker suddenly wild, there was no way that bat was coming off of Minga’s shoulders with two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game.
“I called time, and I went up to him and said just take,” CCA coach K.C. Cunningham said. “I don’t care if it’s coming down the middle, take it because who knows what the umpire may call? You never know, so I said take it and let’s hope for the best. He took it, and we got a win.”
The winning sequence began when Caleb Farlow sent a hard two-out grounder toward short that Will Mabry could not make a play on. Farlow then took second on a wild pitch and stole third.
Suddenly, Tucker fell apart. The pitcher who had opened the seventh with two outs on six pitches couldn’t find the plate. He went 2-0 on Lahndon Townley before the Chiefs elected to walk him intentionally.
The same thing happened with Emerson Weeks to bring up Minga.
Tucker never gave Minga a chance to swing, and Minga, a senior playing baseball for the Rams for the first time, walked to force in the winning run for the first time at any level of baseball.
It was an outcome that seemed unlikely as the Rams struggled mightily at the plate for most of the day. They failed to get the ball out of the infield until McCory Humphreys boomed a one-out double to left in the bottom of the fifth.
“We really weren’t hitting the ball those first couple of innings, then we started putting it in play and making plays,” Cunningham said. “We got down to where they needed to throw strikes and couldn’t, so we were just being smart at the plate, taking it and got a walk home to win the game.”
It was a stunning turn of events after Tensas appeared to take control with a four-run fourth, not that the Chiefs did much to earn that lead.
A walk, an error and another walk loaded the bases with one out. CCA starter Jackson Howard then got a strikeout for what should have been the third out.
Instead, Howard walked back-to-back batters on 3-2 pitches to force in two runs. Cunningham then brought in Drake Shaw, who promptly fell behind 3-0 on Mabry. He came back to 3-2, then got Mabry to send a lazy fly ball to left.
But nobody made the play, as the ball fell between fielders, allowing two runs to score and giving Tensas a 4-1 lead.
To that point, the Rams had managed one hit, which barely got out of the batter’s box.
That came in the first inning. Shaw led off with a walk and stole second. Mabry, who started for the Chiefs, struck out the next two batters, then walked Howard and Daniel Pate to load the bases.
Farlow then sent a little squib up the third-base line, beating the throw to first for an infield single that scored Shaw.
And that was all of the Rams’ offense for a while. Through four innings, the Rams didn’t get a ball out of the infield. They struck out 10 times during that span — technically 11, but Shaw reached on a missed third strike in the second.
Then came Humphreys’ double, and he wound up on third after an error and scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-2.
“You don’t want to get in that position,” Cunningham said. “We were down 4-1, our leadoff guy struck out, and McCory went up and got a big double and then got to third. We just kind of took off from there.”
The Rams tied it in the sixth, again with some help. Townley reached on an infield single to deep short, starting in motion one of those plays you never see in a box score.
Townley stole second and then third, an unusual move with two outs and a good hitter in Shaw at the plate. But there was a method to the madness.
“I just thought that catcher, he’s young, I figured he would try and rush it and maybe get an error out of it and get home,” Cunningham said. “I knew we could beat it out.”
Townley was on the same page.
“I was on third, and I saw the catcher during the game and he was making a couple of mistakes, so I said maybe I can catch him on one of them,” Townley said.
The Rams right fielder danced off third, trying to draw a throw from the Chiefs catcher. He did, and in the botched rundown that followed, Townley scampered home, technically with a stolen base that made it 4-3.
Shaw then walked ahead of Humphreys, who sent a single into left. The ball eluded the left fielder, and Shaw came all the way around to score the tying run.
All four of the Chiefs’ runs were unearned. Howard and Shaw combined to strike out six and walk eight. The Rams struck out 14 times against Mabry and Tucker but also drew nine walks.
Artistic it wasn’t, but the Rams are one win away from the Class 2A championship series.
Luke Phillips will start for the Rams in Game 2 on Thursday in St. Joseph, Louisiana. Game 3, if necessary, will be Saturday in Steens.