It was, by all objective measures, not a good situation for Bakersfield Christian's baseball team Friday, down big early to South Sequoia League rival Taft with Wildcats ace Steven Gee waiting to pitch the final three innings.
But BCHS stayed positive, settled down and came up with an enormous rally and 8-6 victory over Taft that all but clinches the SSL title for the Eagles after a 5-4 win in Taft on Tuesday.
"These were two really big wins," BCHS coach Jason Smith said. "Taft is a good ballclub, and we knew it would be tough."
Trailing 5-1 after two sloppy innings, the Eagles rallied for six runs in the bottom of the third on the strength of six consecutive hits. It started with Ricky Sottile's stand-up triple and everything possible going wrong for Taft -- two fly balls to right field lost in the sun, a bloop single, an error on a dribbler to third base that tied the game, then an infield hit that put BCHS ahead after two Taft infielders tripped over each other trying to make the play.
"We gave them way too many outs," Taft coach Anthony Reed said. "It was a circus out there in that third inning. There were six or seven plays that could have been outs. If we make those plays, we might take them out easy."
As it is, Taft (21-4, 8-2 SSL) will have to hope BCHS (16-9, 8-0) loses at least two of its final four games -- but the Eagles will be heavily favored against Arvin and Chavez, their remaining opponents.
"It's only been two weeks since we've had our full team healthy and here," Smith said, "so it's coming together for us. We're playing and pitching well."
An error and a wild pitch brought home two Taft runs in the first inning, and the Wildcats added three in the second on a Danny Romo double and singles from Anthony Rodriugez and Kyle Adkins. They led 5-1 heading to the bottom of the third, and Gee -- a Cal State Bakersfield signee who also has significant MLB draft interest as a pitcher -- could pitch as many as three innings after throwing seven on Tuesday.
But that's when BCHS got busy. Ryan Unruh, who went 3-for-4, followed Sottile's triple with an RBI single. Austin Huckaby and Jake Thompson each brought hom runs with singles, and the inning quickly became a game-changer.
"The trick is to only go after one or two (runs) at a time," Unruh said. "We knew there was a long way to go. Once we got going, it was just a domino effect. Then the momentum shifts to pitching and defense."
BCHS starter Spud Heideman, who suffered through some ineffectiveness and bad luck early, rebounded nicely. He finished with a complete game and seven strikeouts, allowing just one run on four hits in the final five innings.
"It's really important to keep grinding no matter what," Heideman said. "I can't give up on the team, and defense really got dialed in after those first two innings."
Gee struck out two in two scoreless relief innings, and he was 2-for-3 with four stolen bases and three runs.
Reed said the Wildcats still had much to play for, reminding his team after the game of the 2011 season, in which Taft swept Bakersfield Christian but watched the Eagles came back to win the Central Section Division IV title.
"We just have to keep that mentality, to keep looking forward," Reed said.
But on Friday, a chance at a league title might have slipped away from Taft. Trailing by two, the Wildcats stranded two runners in the sixth inning, and Heideman set them down 1-2-3 in the seventh, thanks in part to a beautiful play in the hole at shortstop by Hayden Kuchta.
"We have a solid senior class," Smith said. "These guys were all role players on the 2011 Valley championship team, and they've sort of adjusted to, 'I'm the guy now. I'm not a role player anymore.' It's pretty fun around here right now."