Oxford believed in game 1 starter Joe McGuire. Oxford believed in its bats. And, when things came down to the end of it with game 2 on the line, Oxford believed in Dylan Johnson, who stood on the mound with the bases loaded and two outs.
Johnson was in the epitome of a jam, having already allowed three runs in the inning to let Huntsville back in the game. A hit would tie the game 8. An out would secure the win for the Yellow Jackets.
“I was just thinking, ‘I have to get this last out. I can’t let up any more runs, I can’t walk anybody,’” Johnson said. “I was confident in myself because the team had my back.”
With everything to lose or win, Johnson got Adam Beasley to fly out Colton Turner in center field, completing Oxford’s sweep of third-ranked Huntsville (29-11) in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs, 8-7.
“I teared up,” Johnson said. “I felt so relieved.”
The win, which advanced Oxford to the second round against Grissom, came after an offensive slugfest that took place for nearly three hours in the early afternoon, which featured 25 hits, in a Yellow Jackets’ 14-11 win.
“Usually in doubleheaders, one game has a lot of runs and offense and usually the other is all defense,” Oxford coach Wes Brooks said. “I think game 2 started defensively, but with the wind blowing out, it all changed.”
While hitting played a large role in both games, McGuire’s perseverance on the mound in game 1 was one of the most impressive aspects. McGuire, who joked he threw “around 200 pitches,” went the distance despite allowing 10 hits and 11 runs.
“I was nervous because it was my first playoff start and I got jitters. I needed to settle down,” he said. “You just have to keep going, keep going and keep pushing. Staying in was all up to me. I knew I didn’t pitch my best, but I knew when we got back in the dugout we’d score some more runs and we’d out-hit them.”
And that’s what the Yellow Jackets did.
Oxford put together 13 hits, but first baseman Trent Simpson stole the highlight, hitting a home run his first three at-bats.
“They kept throwing me fastballs,” Simpson said. “This isn’t the biggest field so I knew I could hit it out at any part. I just tried to stay within myself.”
But when Huntsville put left-hander Daniel Wright on the mound to start game 2, Oxford’s offensive production slowed.
“Their left-handed pitchers kept us off balanced, but lefties just found a way to get some hits and move some runners,” Brooks said. “I thought that was the difference. We made adjustments along the way.”
The first adjustments came in the third inning when Oxford took a one-run deficit and turned it into a three-run lead while batting 10. The Yellow Jackets followed with four more runs in the fifth, including a two-run home run by McGuire.
“We just didn’t give away at-bats,” Simpson said. “We’ve grown up a lot. The first game we obviously swung the bat really well and in the last game we faced a few tough pitchers, but everyone went up there and competed.”
And that’s what brought the game to the top of the seventh with Johnson struggling to get the final three outs.
But Oxford remained confident because it’s coaches and players believed.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.