HONAKER, Va. —
It was an emotional ending to an emotional day for Honaker.
Hunter Lester ripped a single to center field to score Shey Bunn with the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Tigers undefeated with a 6-5 Crooked Road Conference win over Holston Friday evening at Harding Field.
Like all teams right after a big victory Honaker players gathered together in a circle, but it had nothing to do with a celebration.
The Tigers surrounded their teammate, not Lester, not Bunn, who ran for Makenzie Phillips, but young Matthew Hutchinson, whose father Michael Hutchinson passed away earlier in the day.
The son told his teammates and coaches his dad would have wanted them to play, so they did, and after they pulled out an emotional win the tears and emotions came gushing out.
“This is a life-changing experience for everybody on this team, I mean his dad was our biggest fan and he’s truly going to be missed,” said a red-eyed Phillips, who struggled to speak.
“To come through like we did today, for Hutch to come out here and play today, that takes a lot of courage and it’s pretty brave on his part. That’s hard.”
Hutchinson, one of the Tigers’ top players off the bench, scored a pair of runs as a courtesy runner for Honaker catcher Jacob Mitchell.
Mitchell would play a critical role defensively later in the game.
Holston overcame a 5-1 deficit and rallied with two outs in the seventh to tie the score at 5-5 on a two-run double to center by sophomore Austin Crabtree.
Phillips, meanwhile, had a productive game. He drove in Hutchinson with the first run of the day on a grounder to short, tripled and scored in the third, doubled in Hutchinson in the fourth and walked leading off the seventh inning before giving way to the speedy Bunn.
Bunn reached third on a double to the left field fence by Avin Parrott and scored when Lester, who was picked off first in the third, got a chance to redeem himself with the game on the line.
“I hadn’t been seeing the ball all week,” Lester said. “We were practicing and coach (Tom Harding) taught me to spit at the plate every time I swung the bat, and it really helped me to keep my head down on the ball and I finally got my pitch.
“It’s been an emotional day and I just tried to keep my focus as best as I could. He finally gave me my pitch and I just saw it off my bat and it went through.”
The Cavaliers (9-4) scored an unearned run in both the third and fifth thanks to RBI singles by Seth Harding, who led off the seventh with a double and finished the day 3-for-3 at the plate.
Holston loaded the bases on walks with nobody out in the sixth but Honaker pitcher Austin Ray allowed just a single run on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Devin Keith that made it 5-3.
That’s where Ray’s catcher, Mitchell played a pivotal role, throwing out three would-be base-stealers. Two came on unusual, inning-ending double plays with two runners on, where the batter struck out on a pitch in the dirt with first base occupied and just one out.
“(Mitchell) did a great job,” Holston coach Jason Matlock said. “We were a little too aggressive on balls in the dirt and he did a good job blocking and getting to his feet ... and that hurt. It was a real headsy effort by that kid.”
Ray got out of a final jam with his 11th strikeout with runners on second and third in the top of the seventh.
Holston starter Conrad Thacker worked his way out of numerous jams, thanks in part to key defensive plays from second baseman Wes Roberts and right fielder Peyton Garrett.
“(Thacker) pitched out of some jams and we played some pretty good defense at times,” Matlock added. “I was proud of the way that our kids battled.
“I was proud of the fact that, we got out in five (innings) the last time we played (Honaker) and we certainly wanted to put a better showing on the field, and I feel like we did that.”
Honaker battled strong emotions all day and it showed on the faces of the players and coaches and fans after a win that gave the Tigers a strong lock on first place in the conference.
“It’s been hard for us all,” Lester explained. “I mean, we’re just like a big family and we’re here for Hutch and it just breaks my heart and I know it breaks all these guys’ hearts to see it happen to such a good kid like Matthew.”
Added Phillips, “To get a win against a good Holston team really means a lot. We didn’t hit the best or play the best that we could, but we came out with a ‘W’ either way.”
It was Holston’s second loss to the Tigers. Meanwhile, Honaker (12-0) has only Haysi, which has three conference losses, and two winless clubs, Hurley and Twin Valley, remaining in league play.
At Harding Field
Holston.........................001 011 2 -- 5 6 2
Honaker........................111 200 1 -- 6 11 2
Thacker and Barlow. Ray and Mitchell. W-Ray (7-0). L-Thacker. HR-none.