Heber Springs completed a comeback of epic proportion on Monday at Panther Field against Southside Batesville, rallying from seven runs down in its final at-bat to send the game into extra innings. The Panthers fell behind 12-10 in the eighth inning, but once again rallied to knot the game with two runs in the bottom half.
Down 15-12 after the top half of the ninth, Heber refused to lose, rallying a third time with four runs while finally capturing a pivotal 2-4A Conference victory once senior Harley Hooten was hit-by-a-pitch, bringing home Chandler Jones as the Panthers basked in a thrilling 16-15 victory.
Panther Coach B.J. Greene was all smiles following the miraculous victory. “We had some clutch seniors step up for us but to score seven runs to stay in the game what can you say. We went and mustered, which for us is taking a strike, and their pitcher threw some balls for us and we had some timely hitting. It doesn't get much better for some high school kids that have struggled as much as we have to compete and play at the level we did tonight.”
Leading 4-2, Southside (3-6, 1-3) took a seemingly commanding lead in the top of the fifth, scoring five runs on four hits, highlighted by Trey Payne's 2 RBI triple to left field.
Heber chipped away with a run in the bottom of the fifth as Paden Flippin lined a one-out double past third and down the left field line. With two outs, Chandler Marquardt worked a full-count RBI walk that scored Flippin, but Southside relief pitcher Myles Hooper responded by striking out the next batter, leaving the bases loaded.
The Southerners scored an insurance run in the top of the seventh when Payne delivered a two-out RBI single to center field, plating Hooper, who drew a one-out walk.
Down 10-3 entering the bottom half of the seventh, Flippin led off with a single to left field and Michael Kramer followed with a full-count walk. Judson Smith also walked as the Panthers loaded the bases, causing Southside to relieve Hooper with Dakota Cook.
Morgan was hit-by-a-pitch for an RBI that scored Flippin, then Chandler Marquardt slammed a 2 RBI double over second base and into right center, scoring Kramer and Smith to pull the Panthers within four at 10-6.
Jones added an RBI groundout to second that scored Morgan then Dillion Moore walked on four pitches and Zac Ingram reached on an error as Marquardt scored from third.
Facing a 3-1 count, Hooten crushed a 2 RBI double off the base of the wall in deep left center, scoring pinch-runner Tyler Dennis and Marquardt as Heber suddenly tied the score at 10-all.
With one out, Southside replaced Cook on the mound with Cub Riley, who managed to pitch out of the inning, leaving the winning run stranded at third.
Page 2 of 3 - Riley opened the eighth inning with a single and Drew Moss sliced a double deep down the right field line as Southside quickly placed two runners in scoring position before Tanner McGuire's RBI sacrifice-fly scored a courtesy runner, giving Southside an 11-10 lead.
With two outs, Moss scored on a wild pitch, boosting the Southerners' lead to 12-10 before Morgan, pitching in relief, retired the side with a strikeout.
Heber (5-12, 2-2) rallied again in the bottom of the eighth, sparked by Morgan's leadoff triple to the alley in left center. With one out, Jones worked a full-count walk then Moore belted an RBI single that caromed off the pitcher and trickled behind the mound, plating Morgan.
With two runners in scoring position after Moore swiped second, Riley fired back with a strikeout and moments later Southside came within one strike from victory. But, Riley's 1-2 delivery to Hooten skipped in the dirt and past the catcher for a wild pitch as Jones alertly sped home from third base, tying the score at 12-all.
On the next pitch Hooten lined out to second base, leaving Moore stranded 90 feet from home.
Jacob Rawlings stroked an RBI double to left field and Riley added a 2 RBI single to right field as the
Southerners took a 15-12 lead in the top of the ninth only to see the Panthers rally for a third time in the bottom half.
In the bottom of the ninth, Flippin ignited the Panthers with a single to right field. Smith added a one-out single through the hole on the left side as Flippin sped around to third, drawing a throw, which allowed Smith to take second on the fielder's choice.
Aggressive base running helped Heber tremendously in its comeback. “Our kids are getting better at it,” said Greene. “A lot of that first to third stuff is not from coaching. The kids have to see it and run. We are getting so much better at that and it was a big boost for us to get some runners in scoring position. Especially, late in the game when we needed two or three runs.”
Morgan followed with a grounder to the left side that was mishandled as Flippin scored and Smith moved up to third, allowing Morgan to steal second on the next pitch.
Marquardt then hit a chopper to third that was fielded cleanly, but the throw home sailed high, allowing Smith to score as the Panthers pulled within one at 15-14.
After Jones was hit-by-a-pitch, Moore lifted a fly-ball to left center that was dropped as Morgan scored, but the Southerners cut down Marquardt at the plate on a relay.
Tied at 15-all, pinch-hitter Zach McCormick drew a walk to load the bases for Hooten, who was hit-by-a-pitch for the game-winning RBI, which plated Jones as the Panthers celebrated a tremendously hard-fought victory, while the Southerners moped around in disbelief.
Page 3 of 3 - At 2-2 in league play, Heber has a chance to sneak up and snag the second seed in district and a spot in the 4A East Regional Tournament with wins over Clinton and Pine Bluff Dollarway.
“If we can get somebody to upset Stuttgart and we can do our job and win out the rest of the way we are sitting as a two seed going into district tournament and a bye to regionals,” said Greene. “But, like tonight, we've got to do what we need to do and just hope somebody upsets them [Stuttgart].”
Flippin paced the Panthers, finishing 3-for-3 with two singles and a double, while Morgan (3-for-4) also tallied three hits, including a single, double and triple. Marquardt was 2-for-5 with two doubles and 3 RBI, while Hooten drove home a team-high four runs for Heber. Zac Ingram contributed 2 RBI, while Moore and Jones each drove home one run.