Plumlee's walk-off gives Oak Grove series lead

By STAN CALDWELL,

OAK GROVE – Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good.

Oak Grove got some lucky breaks when it was needed most and cashed them in for a dramatic 4-3 victory over Harrison Central in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday night at Harry Breland Field.

Senior John Rhys Plumlee delivered a two-run walk-off single to cap a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning for the comeback victory.

The Warriors (20-6) can clinch the best-of-three game series and move on to the next round with a win in Game 2 at 7 p.m. Saturday in Lyman. Harrison Central (15-12) must win Saturday to force a deciding third game back at Oak Grove on Monday.

“When you get to this round of the playoffs – and I’ve been here a bunch – everybody’s got an ace, and their guy did a tremendous job,” Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle said. “I’m really proud of our guys for hanging in there.”

Oak Grove didn’t look much like the sixth-ranked team in the state against Red Rebel senior right-hander P.J. Harrison (4-4), who baffled the Warriors for much of the game with an array of curveballs and off-speed deliveries.

“He did a great job of changing speeds, fastball to curveball, and a change-up that he threw for strikes,” Plumlee, who had been in a hitting slump coming into the postseason, said.

“He commanded his pitches really well, and he didn’t walk people. He put the pressure on, and we didn’t handle it very well until the very end.”

But the Warriors finally broke through in their last at-bat, taking advantage of a costly error on what would have been a game-ending double play.

“I just felt if we just put some pressure on them, we could get some things done,” McCardle said. “I thought it would come earlier than it did, but I’m just glad we kept fighting, and finally good things happened for us.”

Oak Grove ace Luke Lyon worked in and out of trouble all night, giving up nine hits altogether and he walked three batters.

The Red Rebels got a run on a wild pitch in the third inning after loading the bases, and Lyon also surrendered a run in the fifth on another wild pitch after a leadoff single and two stolen bases.

But Lyon (6-2) was able to limit the damage in each inning, and he was helped by his defense, as Oak Grove turned three double plays.

“It was a little hard because the (home-plate) umpire was a little inconsistent, but it was that way for both teams, so we just had to adjust,” said Lyon. “He liked the pitchers to keep it low. Anything above the belt we weren’t getting.

“I just knew my team had my back when I was out there.”

The Warriors tied the game with a run in the fourth on a strange lucky bounce for Oak Grove. Kris Jones led off with a single, then Deejay Booth hit into a fielder’s choice.

Booth stole second and the throw went into right-center field. Booth kept going around third base but stumbled and fell halfway between third and home.

However, the throw from the outfield caromed off the catcher’s glove, allowing Booth to get up and scramble across the plate ahead of the throw.

Still, it looked grim for the Warriors, especially after Harrison Central got an insurance run in the top of the seventh, but once again Lyon wriggled off the hook with only slight damage, thanks to his defense.

After a leadoff single, Harrison sent a flyball to deep right field that Jones lost in the lights, but he recovered to fire a strike to second base to get Harrison trying to stretch the single into a double. Lyon did allow a run-scoring single but followed with an inning-ending double play.

“Luke did a tremendous job tonight,” said McCardle. “I can’t say enough about what he did for us tonight. They scattered a few hits, but he stayed out of the big inning. The biggest thing he did for us was he saved our bullpen and that’s crucial in a three-game series.”

Oak Grove’s game-winning rally started innocently enough. With one out, Cade Cuevas singled, but Tate Ryder hit a routine grounder to second and the Warriors looked done for. But the ball kicked off the second baseman’s glove and both runners were safe.

Turner Swistak drew a walk to load the bases and Lyon followed with a sharp single to the bag at third base, scoring Cuevas for Oak Grove’s second run, with Ryder sliding in safely under the third baseman’s tag to keep the bases loaded.

Plumlee took the first pitch for a strike then fanned on the next before smacking a single up the middle. The ball took a bad hop off the bag at second, just enough for Swistak to beat the throw to the plate for the game-winning run.

“Cade Cuevas scored, and everybody’s hyped up,” said Plumlee. “He’s giving me some love, and I’m saying, ‘I’m going to go win this thing right here.’ The first one was outside corner; it was a little out, I thought, so I let it go for strike one.

“Strike two, I thought I sat back on the curveball, but I was just a little bit out front on it. Third pitch, a curveball, I recognized it kind of late, so I just tried to shorten up my swing and make something happen with it, and it worked out.”

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