GAINESVILLE — Despite a .561 batting average and just two strikeouts all season coming into Friday’s monster Region 8-A showdown with Prince Avenue, Lakeview Academy’s Andrew Estes was having one of those days.
The junior shortstop fanned his first three times against Wolverines’ hurler Thomas Ross and looked overmatched each time. But none of that mattered when the Lions needed him most.
Estes stroked a single to center off Ross driving in K.J. Millwood in the bottom of the sixth for the eventual game-winner in a thrilling 6-5 Lakeview Academy victory at Lions Field.
However, Estes’s dramatics would have been wasted if not for Skyler Thellman’s snagging of a Sammy Hodges liner to second with a drawn-in infield and then gunning down a Wolverines’ runner at third for a game-ending double play.
Starter Holden Cooper wiggled in and out of trouble for most of his five innings. He surrendered 10 hits and four runs but he also stranded six Prince Avenue batters, four in scoring position. Campbell Melson actually earned the win pitching the final two innings giving up two hits and one unearned run.
“Wow,” said Lakeview Academy coach Duece Roark. “That was a huge play and this was a huge win. But I think it’s a testament to this team and how they never quit. We’ve been playing that way certainly this week and most of the year.
“I don’t think we were at our best today but the kids brought it when we had to have it. Holden really battled and kept us in the game. Campbell did a good job at the end.”
The Lions (12-2, 4-0 Region 8-A) have won five straight, including three games this week. They rallied from a pair of deficits Friday. Estes’s hit capped a three-run sixth after they saw Prince Avenue (7-3, 2-2 Region 8-A) erase a 3-2 deficit.
Estes said his teammates never let him waver.
“It was a rough first three at-bats but the guys just told me that they needed me so I just tried to go up there with confidence,” he said. “After some fastballs, I swung at a slider down and away. I just looked fastball after that and he threw me one and I was able to do something with it.”
But Estes said the more thrilling thing is to see the Lions as a team begin to make some noise.
“This was a huge win for us. But it’s really exciting to see this team come together the way we are. I feel good about this team being able to go pretty far,” Estes said.
One more win for the Lions and they will match last season’s entire win total.
They will get a huge test on Saturday traveling to No. 2-ranked and unbeaten Mt. Vernon for a doubleheader.
“I feel like we certainly can compete in Class A. We’ll get a real good sense of where we are after (Saturday)," Roark said.
It was an early pitcher’s duel as Prince Avenue took a slim 1-0 into the third inning.
Ross set the Lions down in order in the bottom of the first and then the Wolverines struck first in the second as Seay tripled with one out and scored one batter later on a RBI single by Hodges for a 1-0 lead.
Lakeview managed a couple of hits against Ross in the second by Thellman and Jordan Thomas but both were stranded as Parker Allen hit into a fielder’s choice and Cooper grounded to short to end the threat. Ross then made it 2-0 in the top of the third with a solo home run to left.
Lakeview answered back the first time with three unearned runs in the bottom of the third. Melson was hit by a pitch, Sam Stewart reached on an infield single, and both scored when the Wolverines defense had troubling tracking down and then dropping Thellman’s high pop into a fierce wind in right. Ian Echols followed with a single to right scoring Thellman to give the Lions a 3-2 lead.
But the Wolverines answered that with a two-run fifth as Jake Pittman and Zach Dyer each had two-out RBI hits against Cooper. Lakeview was poised to retake the lead in the bottom of the inning when Melson singled and Stewart doubled with one out. But Ross struck out both Thellman and Echols to get out of the jam unscathed.
Prince Avenue added what looked like a big insurance run in the top of the sixth for a 5-3 lead but Lakeview finally knocked out Ross in the bottom of the sixth.
Ross plunked Thomas and Cooper ripped a double off the centerfield wall to pull the Lions within 5-4. Lakeview then got a big break when the Wolverines’ Pittman could not handle a K.J. Millwood grounder to short and then threw the ball away allowing Cooper to tie the game from second setting the stage for Estes’s game-winner.