Perseverance is an amazing thing. Often times, this intangible element is the only thing that separates a good team from a great team.
This ability to fight back and climb out of a hole was definitely on display May 26 as the Thayer Bobcats played host to the Valley Vikings in the Class 1 sectionals, with a trip to the state quarterfinals on the line.
The Bobcats looked hopelessly overmatched early, falling behind Valley 8-0, before Thayer exploded for 18-unanswered runs to blow the Vikings out of the water 18-8 in five innings.
"I'll have to hand it to our kids," said Thayer Head Coach Matt Pitts. "We stuck with our game plan and didn't stray. We just kept plugging and plugging and good things happened. These kids have got a lot of heart."
The Cats fell behind 6-0 in the second inning as Thayer starter Aaron Henry had a rough outing on the mound, giving up five runs on five extra-base hits in the frame, before being lifted in favor of Anthony Martin.
Martin came on and fanned six, while allowing seven hits in four innings of work.
Valley hurler Blake Jones kept the Cats in check the first couple of innings, before the Thayer bats woke up by plating six runs in the third, four in the fourth and eight in the fifth.
"They're probably one of the top three teams we've seen all year long," Pitts said. "And with that left-hander (Jones) on the mound, maybe they're better than that."
Trailing 8-0 in the home-half of the third, Thayer finally dented Jones' armor.
Nicholas Sims reached base on a fielding error, and Justin "Taco" White followed with the Cats' second hit of the day, a shot to right that plated Sims.
"Taco started us off," said Pitts. "Once you get that first run, you think, 'Hey, we can score off this guy.'"
After a pair of walks loaded the sacks, Martin strolled up to the plate and promptly jacked a hit to left that scored three more Bobcat runs.
Carl Hunter followed that with a ground-rule double over the left field fence that brought Martin in, and Bradley Harper topped off Thayer's big inning with a double that painted the first-base line, bringing Hunter in to cut Valley's margin to 8-6.
Not quite finished, the Bobcats took the lead by crossing the plate four times in the bottom of the fourth.
With the bases full of Cats, Andrew Eckman worked the count full and then blasted a triple to the fence in center that scored three runs.
Hunter tacked on another run with an RBI-hit that plated Eckman, staking Thayer to a 10-8 lead, completing their amazing comeback.
Not wanting to let Valley off the hook, the Bobcats finished the game off with eight more runs in the home-portion of the fifth.
Henry ripped an RBI-double, setting up two more ribbies from Eckman on a seeing-eye hit past the first baseman.
Eckman's hit chased Jones from the mound, and Hunter greeted Viking reliever Kris Kearns rudely by jacking a homer over the left field fence.
Sims struck next with a hit that was bobbled, allowing Dustin Hatterman to scamper home.
Up for the second time in the frame, Henry made up for his struggles on the mound with a hit to center that plated Sims, putting the caps on Thayer's impressive 10-run, come-from-behind victory.
"I've never been prouder of a group of guys," said Pitts. "It's going to take a lot to surpass what happened on the ball field today."
Hunter logged a single, triple and homer, missing the cycle by a double, and four RBIs for Thayer. Eckman's day included a single and triple, along with five ribbies, while Martin added a pair of hits and three runs-batted-in. White tacked on two base hits, a triple and RBI, with Harper posting a single, two doubles and an RBI. Henry finished with a single and double, along with two ribbies, and Sims added a pair of hits for the Bobcats.