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Worth rallies, wins thriller vs. Westover

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SYLVESTER -- Looking for a tag to slap on this year's Worth County baseball team?

No-quit Rams? Ram tough? That fits -- fits just fine.

"Not giving up,'' began junior Ryan Hickox, "that is a key aspect of our team.''

Hickox would know. He was on the mound in relief Tuesday night to nail down Worth's remarkable 6-5 comeback win against Westover, which came on a cold night that was perfect for hot boiled peanuts, steaming coffee and a group of kids from Sylvester that just refused to quit.

"I'm proud of them,'' said Worth coach Will Smith, whose team was down 5-1 after five innings.

Well, it was worse than that. The Rams were down, 5-1, and Westover had Robert Daniel on the mound. And there might not be a better pitcher than Daniel in all of Southwest Georgia.

There was Daniel, a talented lefty whose hard fastball was even harder to hit with a chill in the air, on his way to a big Region 1-AAA win. He had already struck out 10 batters in five innings and had allowed just one hit -- Corey Odom's RBI single in the fourth. Daniel had even driven in a run with a sharp single to left in the top of the sixth to give Westover a 5-1 lead.

But he never made it out of the inning.

Brandon Weaver opened the bottom of the sixth with a long drive to right for a double, and Odom walked on a 3-2 pitch to give Worth some hope for a rally. That hope turned into reality when Marlin Hall ripped a shot to center.

And the comeback was on.

Westover's Kel Miller made a diving effort to catch the liner, but came up short, and Hall came up with a triple, the first of his high school career.

"I had just missed him on two pitches my first two times up, but I didn't miss that one,'' said Hall, a sophomore center fielder, who hit a deep fly to center in the fourth. "It felt good to get that hit -- real, real good.''

Hall hit the ball hard enough to knock Daniel out of the game, and Westover's bullpen couldn't hold the lead. Miller came in and walked three batters to bring in another run and leave the bases loaded for Michael Green, who tried to put out the fire.

Green struck out the first man he faced, but with Hickox at the plate, a passed ball brought home Luke Powell from third to knot the score at 5-5. Hickox walked on a 3-2 pitch to jam the bases again.

That brought up pitcher Will Peacock, but Green was called for a balk before he threw his first pitch to Peacock, and Worth took a 6-5 lead. Peacock then hit a scorcher to third, and Westover's David Kemp stabbed the liner and stepped on third for an inning-ending double play, but it was too late.

Hickox nailed it down. Miller got a leadoff single, but Hickox got a pop out to second, a strikeout and a grounder back to the mound to end it.

Westover coach Kevin Fretwell was livid about the balk call.

"I don't mind saying it. (Green) wasn't even near the rubber,'' Fretwell said. "My kids were cost a region game because of a lack of communication on the field. It's tragic for my kids to lose in this fashion. I think we got done wrong.''

Fretwell wasn't just upset by the balk call. He said it was even worse because the umpires didn't confer to make the call.

It was a costly loss. This was a crucial Region 1-AAA game for both teams. Westover (9-4 overall) fell to 2-3 in the region race, and lost on a night when the Patriots had their ace on the mound. Worth, the defending region champs, improved to 2-1 in the region race and is now 8-6 for the season.

"This was a big, big region win,'' said Peacock, Worth's only senior. He allowed just one earned run on four hits while striking out six and walking two over six innings. "I knew we were going to win when they took (Daniel) out of the game.''

The Rams simply never lost their confidence.

"We just didn't quit,'' Hickox said. "That was a big win. It's pretty amazing.''

Smith said he believed his kids could get to Daniel.

"I think we knew we could hit him,'' Smith said. "We weren't that disciplined early, but it's kind of the nature of the game that you see a pitcher a lot better the third time through the lineup. Maybe he was a little tired.

"Robert is a quality pitcher. He took control of the game, but we were a little more disciplined (in the sixth inning) and we took advantage of the situation. When we got him in the stretch, he was getting the ball up in the zone.''

There was plenty to be said about Peacock, who could have become frustrated with errors and mistakes that led to Westover's early runs. The Patriots scored on a passed ball in the second, a throwing error in the third and a big two-out fielding error that brought home two runs in the fifth, before Kemp singled in the sixth and came home on Daniel's RBI single.

"(Peacock) could have rolled over,'' Smith said of his pitcher. "But he hung in there and pitched a good game. He hit his spots and kept us in the game.''

In the game, and in the hunt to repeat as region champs.

"We've got some work to do,'' Hickox said. "But it feels good to get this win. We know we can come back."