Already facing a 3-0 deficit with two runners on and two out, Andover Central Head Coach Grant Bacon dropped the pressure of the situation squarely on the shoulders of Kory Olney.
Starting pitcher Gage Harth battled through 2-2/3 innings against Ark City, but his command was off. One misplaced pitch could send the game spinning out of control.
“I knew Kory would come in and throw strikes. I just felt really confident in that,” Bacon said. “Where they were at in their lineup, I didn’t want to give them any more gifts.”
Olney, a senior, promptly responded with a strikeout to end the Bulldogs’ threat. By the time his night was complete, he tossed 3-1/3 innings in relief, allowing one run in Andover Central’s 11-4 victory.
Olney said he relied on his fastball early to get ahead in the count before mixing in a knucklecurve.
“(Coach Bacon) just told me to throw strikes and get up in the count,” Olney said. “That’s what I’m trying to do – get up in the count and make our defense do work."
With the Ark City offense temporarily derailed after the top of the third inning, the Jaguars made their move.
Kier Stamp drove in a run with a double to center field to put Andover Central on the board. Three batters later with the bases juiced, Quinten Miller scorched a base-clearing double to put the Jaguars ahead 4-3. Zach McKenzie tacked on an RBI hit for a 5-3 advantage after three innings.
Ark City cobbled together one run in the fourth, but the production was limited on a defensive gem from Jaguar catcher Tanner Crouch. A foul ball drifted toward the backstop, but Crouch recklessly pursued it, sliding into the fence for the catch and the out.
“I think it definitely shows some pretty good dedication from Tanner. Obviously we wanted to get the out, and that helps us out a lot,” Olney said. “We appreciate it.”
The Jaguars broke the game open with a six-run fifth inning.
Gavin Harth highlighted the offensive fireworks with an inside-the-park home run. A well-placed ball to right field forced the Ark City defender to dive for the ball, but he missed.
“I had a good feeling. I felt like smacking it, and I did,” Harth said. “I didn’t even see what the outfielder did. I was just trucking it. I looked at my coach, he told me to go and I went.”
Harth’s 3-RBI homer staked the Jaguars to a 9-4 edge that would expand to a seven-run lead.
Stamp relieved Olney and worked around a single in the seventh by striking out three to close out the win.
The triumph gave Andover Central a sweep of the doubleheader. The Jaguars (9-3) pounced early on Ark City (2-10) in the opener, cruising to a 9-0 win. Bacon said the team lost its focus late in the game.
“I thought game one we were focused well at the plate early, in the first three innings, and then we lost that. I think we got complacent,” he said. “It’s one of those learning things, I think.”
The message sank in for the nightcap.“Our coach told us we could be a good team, but the whole time you have to focus to be a great team,” Harth said. “We all clicked, and started doing work.”