As his players trotted into the dugout for their fifth-inning turn at bat, Dade County baseball coach Brent Cooper gave some obvious but sobering instruction.
"We have a big ol' zero in the hit column right now," Cooper said as he made his way toward the third-base coach's box during a scoreless game with Coosa. "It's going to be really hard to win without a hit."
The Wolverines responded with not just one but three hits in the inning to take control with four runs. Dade added four insurance runs the following inning to claim a key 8-1 win that kept its playoff hopes very much alive.
The biggest swing of the bat came from the Wolverines' lone senior, leadoff man Luke Riddle, who ripped the first pitch he saw for a one-out, bases-loaded triple to put his team in command. Riddle added another RBI hit in the sixth.
"I was looking for something from the middle of the plate in, and that's what I got," Riddle said of his triple. "We needed somebody to execute and get a big hit. I was pretty pumped."
While Riddle's triple was the biggest blow, the bottom of the batting order set the table for the heroics in each of Dade's last two at-bats. The Wolverines' six through nine batters each had at least one hit in the fifth and sixth innings and scored six of the team's eight runs.
That was more than enough support for junior right-handed pitcher Nic Gaddis, who went the distance, scattering six hits and striking out nine. The only real trouble for Gaddis came in the sixth, when he struck out the final two batters of the inning to work his way out of a bases-loaded jam.
The win was the ninth in the Wolverines' last 10 games and means that despite starting the season 2-7-1, they can still force a four-way tie for second in Region 7-AA and possibly earn a playoff spot.
"To fight back from where we were to start the season and be in contention for a playoff spot says a lot about these kids," said Cooper, whose team lost five of its first seven games despite being tied or ahead with fewer than six outs to play in those games. "The way we lost some of those early games was tough and a lot of teams would've just folded, especially since we're so young.
"I talked to the guys about 'focus' and 'finish,' and that's been a big difference. We've been a lot better late in ballgames lately. We really needed that complete game today, because we need all our arms rested for that last game."
Dade County finishes the regular season Thursday at Armuchee.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.