CARY, N.C.—Clovis High came close to keeping the National High School Invitational trophy in the hands of a California school.
But Orlando’s The First Academy wouldn’t let it happen.
Second baseman Chadwick Word hit a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the sixth, clearing the bases and turning a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 The First Academy victory. Reliever Peyton Hopkins got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth and finished with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory for the Royals, who won all four of their NHSI contests.
Hopkins also closed out TFA’s semifinal win against Regis Jesuit, getting the final out after Jason Hegleson pitched 6 2/3 innings of eight-hit ball.
Hopkins entered the game with Clovis holding a 3-2 lead, having scored its three runs on six hits in that fourth inning, and had the bases juiced. He didn’t realize when he got to the mound that preseason All-American Jacob Gatewood was the first hitter he would have to face.
“They told me it was Gatewood hitting, and I was like, ‘Oh.’ But I knew I had to keep it low,” said Hopkins, who fell behind in the count 3-0. Clovis coach James Patrick said he usually gives Gatewood the green light on 3-0 counts, but because Hopkins had just come in and not thrown a strike, he had Gatewood take on 3-0.
Hopkins got a strike in, then located his two-seam fastball down and away, and Gatewood rolled it over for a 5-2 forceout that kept the score 3-2. With sophomore catcher Cody Oerther calling the pitches, Hopkins then retired catcher Alan Crowley on another fielder’s choice grounder to third baseman Trenton Fiscus, who had a strong day defensively, as TFA escaped the jam.
“Their pitcher did a great job by executing pitches,” Patrick said. “Jacob had a great week. He loves to hit and had some really good at-bats this week, but their pitcher did a good job there.
“I was really proud of the way our kids fought back and put up those runs after they had scored and taken the lead. We got right back into it and got the lead.”
Clovis held the lead until The First Academy’s two-out, none-on rally in the bottom of the sixth. Reliever Masyn Ashworth gave up a leadoff single but a popped-up bunt double play brought Nick Gavin to the plate, and the diminutive shortstop prolonged the inning with a single up the middle. Clovis when to knuckleballing righthander Gavin Brar, who gave up a single to Ryan Melnick and then walked Adam Haseley to load the bases.
That’s when Word turned on a high knuckler and drilled it down the left-field line for his game-winning double. All three runs scored, and TFA was three outs from the championship. Coach Scott Grove, in his first year at TFA, said his team had been able to scout Brar the night before and was able to tell his players the knuckler lacked velocity, but Word said he had never hit against a knuckleballer.
“I just wanted to get a good swing, and he left it up,” said Word, who had doubled home a run and scored in TFA’s two-run third inning and had three hits in a quarterfinal win against Dyer County (Tenn.) earlier in the event.
“The whole week was amazing, and I’m just so happy for the kids because it was a total team effort,” coach Grove said of the Royals, whose 16-player roster was by far the smallest in the event. “The kids stayed resilient and came up big when they needed to. It was just a lot of fun.”