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Balk by opposing pitcher brings in winning run for Longhorns

When the JCHS Baseball team took on the Mitchell County Mountaineers at home on Thursday March 20th, no one expected the wildly exciting upset that was about to play out before them. Starting off extremely strong in the first inning with five runs and three hits, Johnson County took an early lead but watched as their control of the game slowly dwindled through the sixth inning.
Mitchell County steadily picked up runs while the Longhorns were largely left standing on base, or worse striking out at the plate. With the exception of one run by at the start of the fifth by Jose Guzman who got on first with a walk, the Johnson County did not score a single time between the second and the seventh. Pitcher Sam Thomas had a strong performance from the mound, throwing out 66 strikes and six strikeouts in the first six innings, but even so a few runners did slip through the cracks after taking advantage of a few crucial errors in the field.
As a result, Johnson County came into the bottom of the seventh trailing by just one run 6-7. Nathaniel Graybeal was the first up to bat, but failed to make good contact on the ball resulting in a strikeout. That put a lot of pressure on Adam Worley who was next to step up to the plate, but then immediately took first after being hit by the pitcher. Worley took advantage of an error that put Payton Fenner on second and gave him third, and then narrowly made it home to even the score at seven.
A strikeout against Brandon Vannoy prevented the Longhorns from ending the game there, but few fans expected just how close the extra innings would be. “It was an odd game,” said Head Coach Pete Pavusek. “In 19 years that was probably the strangest game that I’ve been involved in or associated with in Johnson County. It was a strange deal. It was 7-7 and we went into the eighth. We didn’t score, went into the ninth and they scored three, which made it 10-7.  We came into the bottom of the ninth, our first two guys got out, and we had nobody on with two outs. Then we got a base run here and there and a big hit by Sam Thomas who roped one down the line and scored two runs. He tied it up.”
That huge double by Thomas into left field not only gave him second but also the most critical RBIs of the game, averting what would have certainly spelled disaster after the Mountaineers went up three in the ninth. “There was a lot of pressure,” Thomas admitted “I felt it, but I like being in the big spot, that’s what I live for. I like the big spots. I’m just out there looking for the ball. I’m just thinking get the hit. When you’re facing a good pitcher its tough, but after playing as long as I have it sort of comes natural.”
Yet as huge as Thomas’s hit was, the real strange part of the game was still ahead. Now one run away from a win but with two outs against them, Nathaniel Graybeal took first on a walk with Brandon Vannoy on third and Thomas on second. That’s when Mitchell County decided to switch up their pitching and inadvertently decided the game.
According to Pavusek, “We scratched back and tied the thing. We had second and third and they put a new pitcher in and stepped on the rubber and balked. We scored the winning run on a balk. It was kind of exciting but in another sense it was anti climactic. It was like well we won but nothing happened. The kid comes to the rubber, he toes the rubber, he’s standing on the rubber with runners on and he licked his hand. Once you start your motion you’re committed. Raising up and licking his hand and coming back down while you’re standing on the rubber was a balk. According to the umpire it doesn’t matter if it’s the first inning or the 20th inning, a balk is a balk. He was forced to call it and Brandon Vannoy scored the winning run 11-10, 9 innings. Mitchell County is a good ball team with a lot of good athletes, but it was a good win, a good win for us.”
Essentially the umpire considered Mitchell County’s pitcher to have begun his pitch even though he didn’t actually intend to. As an illegal maneuver, the ball was considered dead and the runners moved on base. However, with the bases loaded this gave Brandon Vannoy home, ultimately putting Johnson County one run ahead in the extra innings and giving them the win.  
Although unconventional, the game was an extremely tough battle to the finish and gave the Longhorns their first taste of a well-earned victory this season. For seniors like Sam Thomas who have been feeling the pressure of leadership, this game was a good indicator that some of the younger players on the team are rapidly coming along.
“It makes me feel good to be up at this level,” Thomas began. “I feel like I have a lot of priority on the team, but I feel like I have a lot more weight on my shoulders too. I’m not quite where I want to be but I’m getting there. I was struggling at first but everything seems to be falling into place now. It’s starting to come along. Everybody on the team is starting to really step up their hitting. The past two days have been great. We have potential to do great things but everything is going to have to fall into place. We’re all going to have to step up our game on defense, hit when we need to hit, move runners over when we need to move runners. We all have to play as a team and can’t be selfish. We’re starting to get there.”