April 25, 2009

A Decoy, a Clutch, & Aunt Irma:  Game 2 had it all

by Carey Meitzler

Friday night's Game 2 in the Picayune - Vancleave series had a little bit of everything.   Good pitching, good hitting, intense

moments, moments of joy, ups and downs, and a lot of other things that make this time of year special in its own unique way. 

At times, high school baseball playoff games make one feel like riding a roller coaster while wearing a blindfold and being

handcuffed to the safety bar.  You don't really know what might happen next, so you just find a way to enjoy the ride because

unlike the roller coaster, there is no time limit and you don't know when it will end.

In the third inning, things momentarily looked bleak for the Maroon Tide.  Vancleave got a leadoff double and the runner was

moved to third base on a balk with no outs.  To make matters worse, the next batter lofts a soft "bloop single" toward center

field and you can sense that Vancleave is going to take the lead.  Hold on.  Sophomore Braxton Lee did what I will say that I do

not ever, I mean ever, remember seeing at this level of baseball.  Lee came charging in holding his hands up like he was in position

to catch the ball in flight even though it seemed he was at least 10-15 feet from making the play.  The runner on third hesitated as

Lee's decoy had him thinking that maybe, just maybe, this ball was going to be caught.  As the play unfolded further, Lee came

out of decoy mode at the last second, snatched the ball on one hop, and fired a near perfect throw to home plate to catcher

Jay Dedeaux who tagged out the stunned runner.  I wondered to myself if Lee improvised this from watching either major league

or college baseball game. About 30 minutes after the game, I was talking via cell phone with Head Coach Cayne Stockstill

discussing other playoff scores I had been receiving on the South State games, and I told him I was still thinking about the "decoy"

play by Lee.  Cayne told me that they practice that play (decoying the runner) and that Lee probably puts more effort into it than

anyone he has seen in years.  So, I am still somewhat amazed by the split second decision and then the execution of this play by

Lee that in the end may have been the "run killer" that allowed the Tide to play extra innings instead of a 5-4 loss that could have

occurred when Vancleave rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Some players get a lot done because of a lot God given talent.  Others take what they have and work their tail off to get the most

out of what they have been given.  Evan Nichelson is one of those guys.  He's not real fast, he's not extremely strong, has an average

arm, but he plays like his heart is the size of beach ball.  He makes plays at first that make his fellow infielders fielding percentage

higher than it should be.  He always seems to come up in situations where the game is on the line and in most cases he delivers. 

He did it again on Friday in top of the ninth with runners in scoring position with the game tied at 5-5.  Evan hit a good pitch

sharply through the left side of the infield to bring in what turned out to be the winning run.  He drove in the winning the night before

in the 11th.  Now, he's not going to do it every time the situation comes up, but he's done it enough this year that my fellow

broadcaster, Dr. Ludwick Lohnes, nicknamed him "Clutch" midway through the season. 

Speaking of Lohnes, what a hoot he can be at times with his dry humor and insights.  With the score tied 5-5 after eight innings,

he got up from his chair while we were going to a commercial break on the radio.  I thought he was stiff from sitting so long

and needed to stretch.  Nope.  He was looking for a way to change the Tide's fortune going into the ninth inning.  Lohnes explained

to me and the listeners that his late Aunt Irma used to get up and walked a circle around her chair when she was not happy with

the cards she had been getting dealt to her during Pinochle (pronounced Pea-nuckle) card games.  He said he was just trying to

see if he might be able to get some "new cards" for the Maroon Tide.  The Doc had inserted the spirit of his Ol' Aunt Irma into the

game and on this occasion it worked.  Just never know what can happen to people at a baseball game.

The late standup comedian George Carlin once did a humorous comparison of football and baseball that is still one of my favorite

five minutes of audio. One of his observations was this:  "In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic

feeling.  Emotions may run high or low, but there's not that much unpleasantness."  Yep, he was pretty accurate.