EUNICE, La. – The last batter on the planet Rick Collier wanted to see come to the plate in the top of the ninth inning for Hinds was Neil Barlow.
The Eagles’ designated hitter was 3-for-4 with a home run when he stepped up to face Itawamba Community College reliever B.J. Johnson with two outs and two runners on base in a 6-6 game.
“I said, ‘Dog gone it, there’s Barlow,’ ” Collier said. “He’s hit well all day.”
Moments later, Barlow would single to start a play that would eventually send Collier’s No. 4-ranked Indians to a 9-8 loss Thursday in the first round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
ICC (43-12) plays at 1 p.m. today against Holmes, a first-round loser to top-ranked host LSU-Eunice.
ICC left fielder Ladarrius Cole charged Barlow’s hit, only to have it bounce past him. The Eagles scored one run on the hit, another on Cole’s miscue, and added a third when Barlow scored on an errant throw to the plate.
Three runs, one hit, two errors … and a trip directly to the loser’s bracket.
“Ladarrius took his eyes off it and the ball bounced over his glove,” Collier said. “He was looking to make a play. I can’t say anything. He tries so hard.”
For Hinds (35-17), it was sweet revenge for a 14-13 loss to the Indians in last week’s state tournament.
“This was huge,” said Hinds reliever Charlie Shearer, who struck out Cole, a .456 hitter coming in, on a 3-2 count to end the game with the tying run – Lige Mitchell – at second. “I threw him a fastball, hoping he would put one in play.”
ICC had rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Mitchell’s fielder’s choice grounder and a ground out by pinch hitter Will Irvin.
A standout defensive play by Hinds second baseman Brandon Alford on Irvin’s smash saved a run because it kept Mitchell at second.
“I was playing more up the middle, hoping to get a doubleplay,” Alford said. “(Irvin) hit the ball in the four hole. I was lucky to get there and make a play.”
ICC third baseman Clint Alford, who went 5-for-5 with a double, says the Hinds second baseman’s play was a crucial blow to the Indians.
“That play was clutch,” Alford said. “That goes through for a hit, we win this game.”
ICC led 4-2 through five innings before the Eagles rallied with a four-run sixth to take a 6-4 lead. The big blow was a two-run triple by Zach Polzin that ended the day for Indians starter Joseph Koon.
The Indians scratched back with one run each in the sixth and seventh on hits by Josh Chism and Wesley McCullough.
ICC must win two games today to remain alive and reach Saturday’s championship round.
“I told our guys to keep their heads up; it’s been a great year,” ICC’s Collier said. “Our hearts are still beating.”
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal