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Put the rally caps on

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

PERRY -- Deerfield-Windsor senior Chris Moates gave his team new life -- and then Wayne O'Neal took it away.

Minutes after Moates hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning in Game 1 of Friday's GISA Class AAA State Championship series, Westfield's O'Neal answered with his own two-out, two-strike, two-run homer.

And there would be no answering O'Neal's long ball.

O'Neal -- Westfield's sophomore first baseman -- gave the host Hornets a 5-3 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series, which resumes at 2 p.m. today with Game 2. If necessary, Game 3 will be immediately after Game 2.

"It's really hard to recover from a loss like this," DWS coach Rod Murray said. "(I told them) that we have to be ready to play baseball (today). (Westfield) hasn't won the state title yet. They have one game toward it, but it's not over yet."

And if Friday is any indication of what DWS is capable of with its back against the wall, then Murray is right -- it's far from over.

Trailing 3-1 with one runner on base, the Knights were down to their last strike with Moates at the plate. He fouled off pitch after pitch, keeping fans on the edge of their seats while he waited for a ball up in the zone.

He connected on a pair of Brandon Bailey fastballs, but those too went screaming into foul territory. Then Moates finally got his pitch -- a hanging curve ball up in the zone that he sent soaring over the left field fence.

"It was one of the best feelings I have ever had," said Moates, who was the starting pitcher but left with a no decision. "I was so excited running around the bases. It was a great feeling knowing we were back in the ball game."

After mobbing Moates at home plate, the Knights (20-7, Region 3-AAA No. 2 seed) went back to the dugout with momentum and enthusiasm, while the Hornets (31-5, Region 3-AAA No. 1 seed) stood stunned in the field.

"We always feel like if Moates gets a ball up in the zone, he can hit it as far as anybody," Murray said. "He got one, and he didn't miss it. We felt like our kids wouldn't quit, and that proves it."

But the Hornets, who topped DWS for the Region 3-AAA crown after sweeping the Knights in the regular season, didn't quit either.

With Rhett Cooper relieving Moates on the mound for DWS, Westfield's Josh Mullis led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a walk. Then the next two Hornets batters were retired after outstanding defensive plays by DWS third baseman Matt Moree.

But Moree wasn't able to catch the next ball that was hit into play. On an 0-2 count, O'Neal hit a no-doubter over the right field fence, giving the Hornets their turn to celebrate at home plate.

"I knew we had the top of the order coming up, and I was thinking we could manufacture a run if we got a runner on base," Westfield coach Rob Fitzpatrick said. "Josh Mullis did a great job of doing that for us, and Wayne had a big hit. That's the bottom line."

DWS struck first in the game when Michael Laslie hit a lead-off home run in the top of the second inning. The Knights would later leave a runner stranded on second base that inning -- a trend that would continue throughout the game. The Knights left six runners on base in the first five innings, and five of them were in scoring position.

The Knights kept the Hornets off the board until the third inning, when designated hitter Dustin Hall was awarded home on a Moates balk.

The Hornets scored one run in the fourth and another in the fifth to take a 3-1 lead heading into the final inning. As the game wore on, Murray said his players started to make mental errors that eventually cost them the game.

"We just need to quit making mistakes for (Westfield) to take advantage of," Murray said. "They are a good team and are well-coached. They are going to take advantage of that stuff."

On the mound, Moates threw six innings and allowed six hits and three earned runs, while striking out five. Bailey threw all seven innings, allowing nine hits and striking out four.

Those with multiple hits for the Knights were Harris Webb (2-for-4), Moates (2-for-4, 2 RBI, HR, 2B) and Laslie (2-for-3, RBI, HR, 2B).

Westfield is looking for its second state baseball championship and first since 1988, while DWS has an uphill battle to avoid its third runner-up finish in the last six years.