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The weather is so hot that for a moment you hope you could hear these words over the public-address system at the West Brunswick High School baseball field: “Game canceled.”
Instead, you pay two dollars for a drink and a Snickers candy bar (“Not going anywhere for a while?”) and get set to watch the Southwest Trojans play New Hanover in a Junior American League baseball game.
Few spectators are in the stands as the players finish infield practice before the sunny 7 p.m. start. But this game and the dozens of others the Trojans will play before the season ends July 1 are not meant to be as intense or as meaningful as a Class 3A state playoff game. These players—many of whom will be on the varsity next spring—are still learning how to play the game.
For Trojan manager Mike Alderson, it is a chance for him to learn more about his players. And the game June 11 against the Wildcats was a perfect opportunuity. The Trojans were behind 5-0 in the top of the fifth inning, and a hit batter and back-to-back walks left the bases loaded and no outs for New Hanover. It looked as if the score was going to be at least 7-0—maybe 10-0 and the “mercy rule” being invoked to end the game.
What next? Would the Trojans quit? After all, it is just one game out of nearly 20 on the schedule. Let’s just play the next three innings, go home and get ready for the next game.
Or would the Trojans battle?
A change in pitchers signaled they were ready to fight, they were not going to give up, they would play as well as they could for the rest of the game.
Brock Holmes, the new pitcher, got two forceouts at home. A walk forced in a run, but a strikeout ended the inning with the Trojans down 6-0.
Alderson and his coaches encouraged their players when they returned to the dugout.
“Let’s not try to get it all back at one time,” Alderson said. In other words, play smart baseball.
His players listened, and when Holmes led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a triple, the rally was on. A wild pitch allowed in the Trojans’ first run. The Trojans then loaded the bases with one out. A groundout by Nick Napolitano drove in a run, and designated hitter Jay Gause singled home two more runs, cutting the lead to 6-4.
“We’re right back in it,” Alderson said.
In the bottom of the sixth, a two-out single by pinch-hitter Tim Powell scored Damian Burney. He had led off the inning with a walk, stole second and went to third on a groundout by Jesse Simmons. Call it smart baseball. The run left the Trojans down 6-5 entering the seventh.
New Hanover showed it was ready to battle, too. It got two runners on base with two outs in the top of the seventh, but Holmes ended the inning by getting a popup.
Two innings earlier, the Trojans were down 6-0. Now, entering the bottom of the seventh, they were down 6-5. With two outs, Blain Turner walked, giving the Trojans the tying run on base.
If Alderson and his coaches had any doubts about the their team’s will to win, they were put to rest before the game-ending popup landed in the glove of a New Hanover player. On a hot evening before few spectators, in a game with nothing at stake—no conference championship, no elimination-game playoff—the Trojans displayed a championship spirit. They left the field as the losing team—and Alderson no doubt reminded them in the postgame conference in right field of their mistakes. But Alderson left the field having learned a little more about his players. And that’s what really mattered.