The Bulldogs jumped for joy together like playful puppies.
Opelika High earned one more big win to celebrate.
What a way to go — no matter what’s next.
Opelika High baseball charged from five runs down to take the lead with six runs in the bottom of the sixth, shut down the side in the top of the seventh, and erupted in jubilation in the infield after a 6-5 win over visiting Faith Academy on Saturday afternoon — capping the team’s last scheduled game before next week’s state-wide school shutdown, and the uncertain future to follow.
“I told them to enjoy it, and play like it’s their last even if it’s not,” Opelika head coach Zach Blatt said as his team rejoiced.
Kory McCoy hit the go-ahead, two-RBI line drive, scoring Jack Pritchard and Bryce Speakman to put Opelika up 6-5 as the Opelika dugout erupted. Then senior Brayden Thomas stepped onto the mound in the top of the seventh to put Faith Academy away on three batters and seal the win.
It could be final game in an Opelika uniform for seniors like Thomas. Opelika High recognized both teams’ seniors before the game just in case. Alabama public schools are going into a shutdown for two and a half weeks starting next Wednesday amid ramping concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and AHSAA sports will be suspended for as long as school is.
College sports across the season have seen measures ramp up from postponements to the outright cancelations of seasons. Saturday at Opelika High School, where the campus will be empty starting next Wednesday, it was every bit a normal gameday. Dugouts were active, there were parents seeking shade, younger brothers played wall-ball, and the concession stand sold plenty of ice pops making it the most popular treat on the day.
Everything was still normal — until it won’t be.
“They might cancel the season or we might just take that break and come and play the area play,” Thomas said, “but either way, whatever happens, it happens, because there’s a plan that God’s got set for us.”
Thomas forced Faith Academy into two groundouts and a fly-out to left in the top of the seventh to end it.
Faith Academy built its lead scoring two runs in the top of the first inning, before adding another two in the top of the fourth then one more in the top of the fifth.
Opelika High went into the bottom of the sixth down 5-0 and six outs away from defeat, but the Bulldogs wore down Faith Academy’s starting pitcher, scoring one run on a sacrifice fly, another on a wild pitch and another on a bases-loaded walk to make it 5-3.
Then Thomas crossed home plate on a wild pitch, setting the stage for McCoy’s big blast into center field.
“It’s great for our seniors, great for our program,” Blatt said of the victory.
“We’ll go in this two-and-a-half week break and see how that goes, and just hope we get to come back and do it again — get to play together one more time,” he added.
Thomas said he figured he’d be put in to pitch in the seventh as he noticed the coaching staff was putting seniors in spotlight positions, just in case this was it. Once Opelika made a game of it with six runs in the sixth, the pressure was put on him and he shined.
“Just the grit of this team was amazing,” senior catcher Andrew Parr said. He’s hopeful the team gets the chance to get back together to play out league play and make a run in the state tournament. “This proves that we can do it,” he said.
But so much seems up in the air.
Opelika beat Theodore 3-1 earlier in the day, finishing with three wins in four games over Friday and Saturday in its host tournament, which happens to be the last action scheduled for the team before the shutdown.
“It could tell. It was there,” senior Jase Rhodes said of that bizarre feeling of the unknown. “But I knew we weren’t going to give up on the season. We’re going to keep going.
“I just want to fight all the way through and not give up,” he said.
Opelika did that.