Ninth-inning HR keeps No. 1 seed Indians alive

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DONALSONVILLE -- Jakhari Martin didn't walk to first base. He didn't run.

He floated.

And Seminole County floated with him, right there in the clouds.

That's how it feels when you win this way, this incredible, improbable way. That's how it feels to survive, to breathe again -- to grab back a season that was almost lost.

"It felt great, felt awesome ... I don't know what to say. I'm speechless,'' said Martin, whose grand slam lifted Seminole right into today's survivor-take-all game against Savannah Christian, one of the top Class A teams in Georgia.

It took nine innings and the grandest slam of Martin's career for Seminole to save its season with a 15-9 win against the Raiders, who won the first game of the best-of-three series, 3-0, on Friday and then led 4-0 early and 7-6 going into the seventh of the second game of the first round of the Class A state playoffs.

But Seminole just kept coming back, back, back -- until Martin's shot cleared the left field wall in the top of the ninth to break up a 9-9 tie.

"It's a miracle, a miracle,'' said Chris Brown, who hit the first pitch he saw in the seventh far beyond the right field wall -- a two-run blast that broke a 7-7 tie to make it 9-7.

There were heroes everywhere.

The Indians had scratched for a run to tie it in the seventh when Dee Virgin walked, stole second and scored on Justin Burke's just-in-time single to center.

Savannah went to its fourth pitcher of the day, and Brown met Jonathan Chamblee's first pitch with a vengeance, sending Seminole to a 9-7 lead.

But the Indians couldn't hold it -- although they didn't lose it either.

After a couple or errors and a close call at the plate gave SC two runs to knot it up in the bottom of the seventh, the Indians ended the inning with a bang-bang play at the plate to send the game into extra innings. SC had runners at first and third and Eric Davis was dancing off first, trying to draw a throw. Burke, Seminole's third pitcher of the game, chased him back and then whirled and threw out Tyler Oglesby at the plate.

The game, the score and every stomach at Seminole stayed knotted until the top of the ninth when the Indians loaded the bases with one out for Martin, who worked the count to 3-2 before hitting his first high school home run.

"The last time I hit a home run I was in the rec league,'' said Martin, who knew he got all of it right away. "It felt like it when I hit it. It felt like it was going. I was just trying to get on base. I was scared, nervous during the game. I didn't want our season to end. But I wasn't scared when (I was hitting in the ninth).''

That season is alive and well.

"That was a long, long game,'' said SC coach Carl Carter, who is closing in on 500 career wins. "We had our chances and we hit the ball really well, but they made the plays. That's a good team, a real good team. They came back (in the second game). They've got a real good team, and you've got to play your best to beat them.''

Seminole tacked on a couple of runs after Martin's slam, and Quan Johnson slammed the door, pitching two perfect extra innings to get the win.

But it was costly. Sam Buczek, one of Seminole's top players and one of only two seniors, left the game in the eighth with an injured oblique and likely won't play today. He does everything for Seminole.

Buczek started the second game and went five innings, giving up four earned runs. He didn't walk anyone and struck out three, and brought the Indians to life with a two-run homer to center in the third inning to close to 4-2.

"That was big. We were down,'' Seminole coach Truette Johnson said. "After losing the first game and then when they went up 4-0 in the second game, we were down. But they kept believing. This is a resilient group. That's why they don't feel pressure.''

There will be pressure today when the two teams meet at 1 p.m. They combined to use nine pitchers in the second game Friday, and with Sam Buczek out, Johnson will have to juggle like a circus act. Sam Buzcek not only pitches, but he's the No. 1 catcher. Burke is the other catcher, but he will have to pitch.

"I will throw all day if I have to,'' said Burke, who threw two innings Friday. "I'll do whatever I have to do for us to win.''

That's the attitude at Seminole.

"I believe in this team,'' Brown said. "We never stop believing we can win. That's why I love this team.''

That love and faith in each other has paid off all year. The Indians (23-3) had not lost to a team in Georgia this year until Oglesby, a tall, tough righthander who is ranked in the Top 30 pitchers (all classes) in the state, shut them down on two hits in the opener. He struck out 11, including the last six to give SC (21-7) the upper hand in the series.

It didn't faze the kids from Donalsonville. They snapped back like a bungee to take the second game, scratching to get a 5-4 lead with a three-run fourth inning that was highlighted by three bunt singles, including a beauty by Colby Hunter that brought in two runs when Davis couldn't hang on to the throw at first as Hunter hit the bag.

Buczek had an RBI single to score a run, and Burke brought in a run with a grounder that scored a run from third on a heads-up play.

It's been like that all year for the run-and-fun Indians, who run all the time.

"It's all about the green light,'' Burke said. "We've got the green light and when we turn it on nobody can stop us.''

They're still alive and running.

Well, floating ...