More than three and a half hours later, the game ended with the home crowd quiet and both teams exhausted.
But it won’t be forgotten.
In the kind of baseball game you could never script, Orange Park-Oakleaf got a leadoff homer in the 13th inning, then survived the tying run on third base in outlasting the Pace Patriots 1-0 in their epic Region 1-6A quarterfinal game at Pace.
“It’s not how I drew it up, but we came up on the right side,” said Oakleaf coach Chris Lannom.
“I’ve never played in anything quite like this,” said Pace coach Jason McBride, a 1994 Pace graduate, who is part of the extended tradition of the Patriots program. “My senior year, they had a region tournament and we were 30-3 and lost, but I never was in something like this.”
The game featured everything. Great starting pitching. Outstanding relief pitching. Diving stops, double plays, a suicide squeeze that just missed, a runner thrown out at home, runners stranded with bases loaded, All sorts of pressure plays from two prep teams.
“Our guys fought hard (last night). I’,m proud of ’em and they gave everything they had,” said McBride, whose team ended its season at 18-9. “That;s all you can ask for as a coach. Come out and fight. And I thought our guys did that.”
The difference was Jacob Schmidt’s booming homer over the left-center wall to start the top of the 13th. He had been hitless in five previous at-bats, including three strikeouts.
Pace had its chance in the bottom of the inning. Tyler Sharp led off with a walk and was on third when the game ended on a strikeout. Oakleaf’s two pitchers had a combined 22 strikeouts.
Starter Skylar Arias, a senior left-hander with a college or possible pro future, worked the first nine innings. He allowed just two hits, only one of those out of the infield in facing 31 batters.
Through seven innings, Pace’s only hit was a hard grounder off Arias’ glove in the second inning that Chase Beckstram beat out. That was the difference between Arias carrying a no-hitter into extra innings.
“He’s that guy that battles for us all the time. One of the best competitors around,” Lannom said. ‘I just love him to death. Probably one of my favorite players whom I’ve coached. Man, he gets on the mound and he does his thing and man, it’s good when it’s going.
“He actually lost on a no-hitter earlier the season. We had only four hits in the game and error got us.”
The Patriots’ countered Arias with equally outstanding efforts on the mound. Starter Chase Lambert recorded five strikeouts in his four innings of work and a double-play in the second. Connor Howton, a sophomore relieved him in the fifth and was dominating. He retired 12 consecutive batters until a leadoff single in the ninth.
“Our pitching has really kept us in it all year long,” McBride said. “(Howton) is just a 10th grader and he’s done a great job. He throws a lot of strikes and gives us a chance. Chase, he is under a 1.00 ERA. And that’s what those two guys have done for us all year.:
After Arias retired Pace in order in the ninth, including his 14th strikeout for the final out, Lannom hugged him and consoled him, knowing he would leave the mound with a no decision.
“He’s a possible draft pick. We pushed him to 122 pitches, which is about as much as you can go,” Lannom said. “He was economical through most of it. That’s why he was able to go nine. As soon as he hit that 120, 122 he was done.”
Reliever Will Pillsbury, a junior left hander, went the final four innings. He stranded multiple Pace base runners in the 10th, 11th and 12th.
“Will never does it the easy way,” said Lannom, laughing. “But he’s got electric stuff. He’s anywhere from 88-92 (mph)..He comes in and he can shut the door. These two lefties are something special. He’s a bulldog. He is one of the best competitors you can find. He will just bear down and be a bulldog.”
In the 11th, the Patriots had the best chance to end the game in their favor. Tyler Sharp led off with a walk and moved to second on Vann Goodloe’s sacrifice bunt. Andrew Bates followed with an infield roller to third. The throw to first sailed well over first baseman Brady Shuey’s head.
Because he had to hold with one out, Sharp could not immediately break on the grounder. McBride knew this might be the best chance, so he waved Sharp around third. Oakleaf right fielder Justin Wager backed up the play and made a perfect throw to the plate that easily beat Sharp.
“We were going to try and win it right there,” said McBride, whose team had only two hits in the game. .”The right fielder made a great hustle play. We weren’t holding up there. When you are having trouble scoring, you have to try and score when you can.”
“That play was crazy. It looked like it was out of our hands for a second,” Lannom said. “Those are things we practice all the time about being in the right spot at the right time.”
Schmidt’s eventual game-winning homer in the 13th came with some emotion on both sides. He didn’t immediately race to first and had words with some fans in the bleachers in going to the dugout. The umpires got involved and the situation was instantly defused.
It led to fans reacting during the lull. But the tension quickly was quelled. Both teams lined to shake hands when the game ended.
“I just talked to my guys and tried to calm them down. You know, young men get emotional and it’s one of those things you have to fight as a high school coach,” Lannom said. “It’s one of those things we deal with constantly. But I tried to tell (Pace players), hey I got them and I told them umpire I got ’em.and I told (McBride) I’ll get control of it. Normal things you would want a coach to do.”
Oakleaf (18-14) against a tough schedule will advance to play Lake City Columbia, a 2-1 winner against Milton in another Region 1-6A quarterfinal. Oakleaf, located in Orange Park near Jacksonville, is only in its fifth year of existence.
“In our third year, we got in the playoffs, we were pretty good, but we got beat in the first round by a team we had beaten twice that year,”Lannom said. “To get back here and get to the second round is a big monkey off our back and it feels good.”
REGION 1-6A Quarterfinal
Orange Park–Oakleaf 1, Pace 0 (13 innings)
Oakleaf — 000—000–000–000—1—1 8 1
Pace — 000—000—000—000—0—0–2—1
WP — Will Pillsbury, 4 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 HBP, 7 Ks. LP — Connor Howton, 8 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 7 K.
HR — Jacob Scmidt (Oakleaf), none on in 13th.