Coalfield champs

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By Zach Selby

Call the Coalfield Yellow Jackets’ season whatever you like. Say it was the continuation of a rebound for a team that was restricted from post season contention for two years. Call it a culmination of talent or the rejuvenation of District 4A’s old powerhouses.

You can describe it however you like, but make sure you also call it what it really is: special.

The Yellow Jackets capped off one of their most successful seasons in school history in front of more than 100 baseball fans last Wednesday night, defeating the Oneida Indians for the third time in four meetings in a 8-7 comeback victory for their second straight District 4A championship.

“It’s great,” said Coalfield pitcher Ashton Jones. “It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had since middle coming into high school.”

Jones pitched a complete game for the Yellow Jackets, struck out four batters on 114 pitches, helping the team finish with its best overall record since 2009. Jones, who had a hit, an RBI and a run as Coalfield’s leadoff hitter, also struck out Oneida’s final batter with runners on first and second base at the top of the seventh inning.

It seemed as if Coalfield (22-3, 9-1) stayed under that kind of pressure from the start of the first inning, whether it was being down 5-0 after Oneida’s first two times at bat, Oneida tying the score in the fourth inning or facing Johnathon Wilson — one of the district’s best pitchers — for six innings.

But Coalfield had an answer to every challenge; and, even more impressive, the players seemed to thrive off it.

“That tells me I have a lot of senior leadership,” said Coalfield head coach Andy Lowe. “I have a lot of boys who like to compete.”

The Indians had put the Yellow Jackets in a hole to start the game. Cole West hit a single into center field as part of five base hits from Oneida’s first six batters that allowed Wilson to run home from second base as part of a four-run inning.

After retiring Coalfield’s first three batters, Melvin Jeffers singled to left field, allowing Clay Jeffers to run home for a 5-0 lead.

Lowe believed in his players, but he admitted he had some concerns.

“I was a little nervous,” Lowe said. “I figured we could score six runs on them because we did that earlier in the year,”

But the Yellow Jackets did one better. After being held to just one ground ball on their first plate appearance, Coalfield exploded for four back-to-back base hits. Trailing 5-1 and with two outs in the inning, Jones got the team started with a single that brought Dalton Lively in from second base. Jones’ hit sparked a rally that included a single from Bryson Morgan to pull the Yellow Jackets within one run and an RBI double from Austin Lowe that gave Coalfield a 6-5 lead.

By the end of the inning, Coalfield held a 7-5 lead, and Jones and his teammates were in their stride.

“Once we got in a groove, we all got going,” Jones said. “Things really started rolling for us after that.”

Oneida scored a run in the fourth and tied the game 7-7 on an error that allowed West to score from first base.

“My nerves were shot,” Lowe said.

With two outs again in the bottom of the sixth, Coalfield made their move. Jackson walked to first base, and the coaching staff called in eighth grader Dawson Nitzschke as a courtesy runner. On the ensuing hit, a ground ball bounced off first baseman Bryant Harper’s glove, which allowed Nitzschke to slide into home plate and take an 8-7 lead.

“It was intense,” Nitzschke said. “All I heard was [coach Lowe] telling me to go and I just took off.”

Jones closed out the game with two ground balls and a strikeout. Despite having two runners on base, Jones said he wasn’t worried.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Jones said with a smile. “I was just ready to go.”

“I can put Ashton in any situation,” Lowe said. “We had two runners on base…and he throws one right down the middle.”

Lowe believes his team’s potential can go much further, but it has to be one step at a time.

“It’s a one-game situation [for the rest of the season],” Lowe said. “If we win Monday, we have a great chance to make it to the state tournament. Monday’s game is the biggest of the year.”

Sports Editors’ note: The Coalfield Yellow Jackets lost in extra innings to the Greenback Cherokees in the first round of the Region 2 Tournament. Coalfield finished the season 22-4