As Peyton Graham walked toward the batter's box Tuesday evening, his head coach bellowed from the third-base coach's box, “If he gets on, I need a runner."
Graham indeed got on base, but only briefly. He didn’t need to do anything more than trot, either.
The fifth-inning solo shot to left-center field landed just a few paces from the flagpole where the Stars and Stripes hung lifeless in the chilly Paul Richards Park air. It was his second round-tripper in as many games and gave the Indians a two-run cushion that looked like it’d be enough offense to secure a third-consecutive District 7-6A victory.
It wasn’t. There were still six innings that needed to be played well into Tuesday night.
Waxahachie, behind three gutty performances on the bump and Jordan Fay’s 11th-inning walk-off single, eventually outlasted Cedar Hill in the first game of the home-and-home series, 6-5.
There were also two ejections, three runners thrown out at the plate and a game-tying run balked home with two outs in the 10th inning.
"I'll tell ya, that is one of the wilder ones that I have seen, and I've been doing this for a while," said Waxahachie head baseball coach Tracy Wood, who is in his 26th season as a skipper and 12th with the Indians. "There were a lot of factors in that game. I am proud of our kids. They kept fighting and it was never over."
The Indians plated one run in the second inning and matched the two runs scratched by the Longhorns in the third to lead 3-2 as the game turned toward the fourth inning.
Casey Kelly worked deep into several counts early and was well over 50 pitches after three-plus innings of work. He then had to work out of a bases-loaded-one-out jam in the top of the fourth inning to preserve the then-one-run Indians lead, 3-2.
Kelly eventually took the hard-luck no-decision on the bump after tossing five-full innings and allowing just two runs. It was a laborious, yet inspiring outing for the Indian righty.
He struck out four, walked two and allowed only one earned run on 73 pitches.
Thanks largely to Campbell Sullivan gunning down a Cedar Hill base runner at the plate, Kelly finished out his outing with a second consecutive scoreless frame in the fifth.
"Casey didn't have his best stuff today, but there is never a flinch in him," said Wood of the outing. "He is a kid that you can challenge."
Waxahachie junior hurler Christian Gonzales followed suit and sat the Longhorns down in order in the sixth inning. He stuck out one.
Disaster then struck in the top of the seventh inning with Graham looking for the save.
Down to his last strike with two outs and a runner on second, Cedar Hill right fielder Tavion Vaughn (1-4) laced a double that one-hopped the center field fence. Both he and the base runner scored — Vaughn on a throwing error — to knot the game at 4-all.
The shot was nearly the sixth home run of the season for Vaughn, and it wouldn't be the last time he left his mark on the ballgame.
Graham (3-5, HR, 2 RBIs, BB) started off the bottom of the seventh inning by roping a single into left field. He then advanced on a botched double play and was standing on third with one out and the bases loaded.
Graham then tested the arm of Vaughn on a short fly ball to right field. The freshman caught the ball on the run and gunned the senior down at the plate for the final out, sending the game into extra innings.
"He (Vaughn) is special," Wood said. "That play, having to turn and flip around and throw it accurately toward the plate; people don't understand how hard that is. You have to be so athletic to do what he did. That was special."
Tuesday night marked the first time this season the Indians provided their faithful with free baseball. And provide they did.
Cedar Hill threatened in the top of the eighth inning and would’ve taken the lead had it of not been for a run-saving stop by BG Winn in the throwing-hand hole at short. Winn could not get off a throw to either bag but kept Longhorns on the corners and now with one out. The next Cedar Hill batter lined to Colton Lee in right field and he fired a strike toward the plate to hold the runners at their respective bags yet again.
Graham promptly induced a weak rollover to DJ Hollywood at first for the final out and the game still tied at 4.
"There was no bigger play in the ball game than the one that BG made right there," Wood said after the game. "BG is a middle infielder, but he has not ever played any shortstop for us. That was a huge play right there."
In the bottom half of the eighth, the Indians loaded the bases with two outs. Sage Hampton (1-5, BB, R) got just a tad under the baseball and flew out the right field to end the threat.
Graham again came up big on the bump in the top of the ninth, retiring the side in order and freezing Vaughn with an off-speed pitch for the final out.
In the top of the 10th inning, Roy Hernandez, the Longhorns DH, singled through the left side of the infield to score Anthony Castaneda with one out. The run gave Cedar Hill its first lead, 5-4.
Aaron Tesei quickly threw out Hernandez at second base as he attempted to stretch the single into the double.
Graham then got a pop up to second to end the inning.
Down one run, Thompson led off the Indians half of the 10th with a four-pitch walk. He was then moved into scoring position by a textbook sacrifice bunt off the barrel of Winn's bat.
Thompson then advanced to third on a passed ball and scored a couple of pitches later — on a balk.
The pitcher was called for separating his hands and, quite apparently, disagreed with the call. So much so that he was sent by the home plate umpire to join the previously ejected Longhorns coach on the bus with the game now tied at 5.
Another scoreless frame by Graham, his fifth inning of work which marked his longest outing of the season, then set the stage for Fay's heroics in the bottom of the eleventh inning.
"He did a great job and did exactly what a senior, and really good player like he is, is supposed to do," Wood said.
Hampton walked to start the frame and was replaced on the base paths by Garrett Milliken, who advanced to second on an Adam Carrizalez sacrifice bunt turned E-1.
The Longhorns coaching staff elected to intentionally walk Hollywood to load the bases. Fay then shot a two-strike single back up the middle to score Milliken and was quickly engulfed by a dogpile of Indians between the first and second base bags.
Milliken was the third courtesy runner for the Indians to score on the evening, prompting Wood to tip his cap to the ballplayers because "without them, we don't score those runs."
Waxahachie had, finally after just over three hours, defended the home field, 6-5.
Graham earned the win on the bump. He finished the game with three strikeouts and two walks over his five innings of work. He also allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits.
The two teams combined for 22 hits and four errors.
Game two will be played at 7 p.m. Friday in Cedar Hill.
"I am proud of them, and it takes more than nine or 10, it takes a team," Wood said. "[...] We are going to reload and it'll be a war over there on Friday. [Cedar Hill] is a good baseball team. I don't know why the perception is out there that this district is not very good, but they are dead wrong because that is a good baseball team.
He added, "They are a good team, but I am proud of our team for getting the win and for scraping and being gutty right there."
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith