RACELAND – Matt Clark just wanted to make himself clear.
West Carter’s coach walked out to the mound to visit with Comets pitcher Trace Tackett, who was one out away from finishing off Bath County in the 16th Region Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.
Clark had told Tackett before the inning that if the Wildcats’ lead-off batter reached base, he’d go to ace Trevor Callahan in relief. Callahan promptly retired the first two opposing batters.
But Bath County’s Nathan Davis worked a two-out walk. So Clark took a walk of his own.
“I wanted to reassure (Tackett) that he was there to finish the game at that point,” Clark said. “And he had to get that next batter.”
Tackett did. He fanned the Wildcats’ cleanup hitter for the fourth time to conclude West Carter’s 5-4 victory at Raceland.
The Wildcats came back from down 3-0 after two innings to tie the game at 4 on Lane Rogers’ RBI single down the right-field line against the Comets’ shift in the top of the fifth.
The Comets’ Ethan Adkins untied it with a two-out run-scoring ground-ball single in the bottom of the frame. Callahan got a head start from second and scored without incident, with the ball slightly bobbled in the outfield.
“We kinda started Trevor moving a little bit on the play,” Clark said. “We’re a team that we can’t just sit back and hope for 15, 20 hits a game. We’re gonna have to make things happen. We’re gonna steal, we’re gonna hit-and-run, and we’re gonna take chances. That’s just the way we gotta play.”
It was enough for Tackett, who pitched around a leadoff walk in the sixth with the help of a double play and an inning later stranded the potential tying run at second base with his fourth strikeout.
The junior lefty readily conceded he wasn’t at the top of his game, allowing six hits and six unintentional walks. He gutted his way to a complete-game performance on a humid afternoon that touched the low 90s.
As a result, every other West Carter pitcher is available for the region semifinals on Monday.
“I definitely didn’t have my best stuff today,” Tackett said, “but being able to persevere through that, that definitely helped a lot.”
West Carter (23-13) has won 11 more games than it did last season. The Comets ticked another task off their to-do list on Saturday.
“The goal this year was to win 20 games, which we did; win a district championship, which we did; and to win a regional game, and we’ve accomplished those three things,” Clark said.
Adkins and Callahan were each 2 for 3 for the Comets. Callahan doubled twice.
West Carter jumped out 30 on Ben Wilburn’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second inning. Bath County climbed back quickly on Landan Swartz’s two-run shot that nearly struck the under-construction middle school behind the left-field fence.
Dominick Hinton’s RBI ground-out gave the Comets a two-run edge in the third, but the Wildcats’ Spencer Pergrem produced a run-scoring fielder’s choice in the fourth, and Rogers knotted the score in the fifth.
Bath County’s rally didn’t cow the Comets.
“That’s another big team win,” Clark said. “Early in the year, that was a game we weren’t winning, and now we are. The growth that we’ve shown is just tremendous. And we’re not done yet. We’ve got a couple more, I hope.”
Bath County (20-18) left six runners on base. Two were in the first inning, when Rogers sent a sinking liner to right-center with two outs. West Carter right fielder Jackson Bond made an inning-ending sliding catch.
“Maybe,” said Wildcats coach Patrick Armitage with a grin after the game. He remains unconvinced the ball was put away.
“If that ball fell, we’re looking at a 2-0 lead, and it didn’t go our way,” Armitage said. “I thought our guys were very resilient. Nobody said a word about it. That was growth from us. It was like, OK, whatever. Let’s move on.
“It was just a game of breaks. We didn’t get a lot of them, and for us to be in it at the end, we were probably lucky to be in it.”
Swartz was 2 for 3 with a double and a dinger for the Wildcats. Nathan Davis went the distance and took the loss, recording five strikeouts and three walks.
Both teams made history just by being in the tournament field. West Carter played in its sixth consecutive region tournament and Bath County competed in its third straight. Both are school records. The Wildcats continue to seek their first region tournament victory since 2013.
“It’s encouraging for our program,” Armitage said. “We’re a very prideful program. We take a lot of pride in our baseball, and always have. We just look to continue that. “It’s a frustrating day, but we’ve gotta hold our heads up. There’s a winner and loser in every ball game. We just happened to be the loser here today, but our guys really played hard and played well.”