Brady Priess didn’t want to leave the mound.
The senior began showing signs of fatigue near the 70-pitch mark, and after surrendering a pair of singles and the game-tying run early in the fifth inning, Claremore coach Jim Sherl thought it might be time to make a change.
Priess had other plans, though.
“I went up to talk to him, and his statement was, ‘I got this guy, give me this guy,’” Sherl said. “Our closer, Cooper Dotson, was ready, but Brady wanted that shot, and I wanted to give it to him.”
He didn’t squander the opportunity.
Facing bases loaded with two outs, Priess tossed a fielder’s choice grounder to retire the side, and the Hornets wouldn’t come close again.
Having affirmed his coach’s confidence, Priess went on to capture a 3-1 complete-game win over BTW for the Zebras at American Legion Park on Monday afternoon.
The Hornets (6-9, 3-4 in District 5A-3) had been held to one or fewer runs only twice coming into the contest. They average nearly four runs per game.
“It was big time holding them,” Priess said. “That’s a big-hitting ballclub. It meant a lot just to be able to throw strikes and know your defense is going to back you up and hold them to the minimum.”
That wasn’t the only time Priess worked his way out of a tricky situation.
Claremore gave up eight runs total during the fourth innings of the Pryor series last week, and Sherl jokingly dubbed those struggles “the curse of the fourth inning”.
However, it was no laughing matter when the Zebras once again appeared to be on the brink of surrendering more runs during that frame.
Wesley O’Malley opened the fourth for BTW with a groundball single, and Ramsey Gates joined his teammate on the bags with a walk.
A sacrifice bunt on the next at-bat gave the Hornets their first out, but with runners on second and third, the situation was turning critical for Priess and Claremore.
Priess wasn’t about to become the curse’s third victim, though.
“I just tried to stay calm,” Priess said. “Just throw strikes, and it’ll work itself out. I didn’t feel any pressure.”
Work itself out it did.
The next batter flew out to right field, and with his confidence growing, Priess struck out Kortay Vincent to vanquish any impending disaster.
Priess finished with three strikeouts while allowing seven hits. Nearly 65 percent of his 108 pitches resulted in strikes.
Beau Phillips and Brysen Williams led the Hornets with two hits apiece.
Sherl said he was pleased with the poise and efficiency Priess displayed while on the mound.
“He threw strikes and got ground balls and fly balls,” Sherl said. “We had complete confidence in him, even there in the seventh inning when his pitch count got up.”
While Priess was busy keeping BTW from accumulating runs, the Zebras were dealing with their own offensive struggles.
Williams kept the Hornets within striking distance with an eight-strikeout outing on the bump, but even he wasn’t impervious to exhaustion.
Claremore (8-7, 4-2) tallied four of its eight hits in the fifth and sixth innings, led by coach’s son Brooks Sherl.
With the game tied at 1 entering the bottom of the fifth, Brooks Sherl blasted a hard groundball single past second base.
He proceeded to steal second and third during the next at-bat, and senior Tristin Hampton brought him home soon after for the game-winning run on a sac fly to leftfield, giving the Zebras a 2-1 lead.
“We were tied up 1-1, and I felt the need to go compete,” Brooks Sherl said. “I needed to get the run so we could have a chance to win, move through the game and hopefully come out on top.”
The sequence was especially satisfying for Jim Sherl.
The elder Sherl was overcome with a sense of pride as he watched his son make play after play for the team, and it reminded him of why he became the Claremore baseball coach in the first place.
He was the softball coach when he started at the school in the early 2000s, and he eventually took over the baseball program as well.
However, handling head-coaching duties for two sports became quite taxing.
That’s when Jim Sherl knew he had to make a decision that was best for himself and his family.
“I was never at home, I was always at a field and I was always coaching other people’s kids,” Jim Sherl said. “It got too much, so I made the choice to leave softball because I wanted the opportunity to coach my kids. Not only coach them, but to be around them more.”
That commitment undoubtedly paid off.
Brooks Sherl, alongside Jake Gilmore, led the Zebras with two hits to go along with his tiebreaking run on Monday.
“For (Brooks) to play last year and have some success, and for him to have success this year, it’s not only gratifying as a coach, but it makes me awfully proud as a father,” Jim Sherl said.
Noah Smallwood added the insurance run in the sixth inning with an RBI double to leftfield, scoring Gilmore. Hampton scored the opening run on a Dylan Gettinger sac fly to centerfield in the third.
Claremore closes out the series with the Hornets on the road at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Another win will further solidify the Zebras’ third-place position with Coweta and Skiatook on deck later this month.
“We knew coming in it would be a struggle, and we knew runs would be valuable,” Jim Sherl said. “We were scratching, clawing and fighting for every run we got. We’re excited because this keeps us in the hunt for first or second place in our district, which is what we’re shooting for.”