(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- There's been something about the Charleston Bluejays and their knack for pulling out big wins.
Their flair for the dramatic started with a win over county-rival East Prairie and carried over with a shocking victory over arch-rival Sikeston earlier this season.
On Thursday, riding the arm of James Naile and a clutch hit by Trey Watkins, the Bluejays knocked off the previously unbeaten Oran Eagles in eight innings, 4-3.
"I think that has to do with our mentality," Naile said. "Looking forward to these big games really helps out a lot. You see whenever we're mentally there and we're making plays, we get things done."
Charleston improves to 8-8 on the season. Oran, the top-ranked team in Class 1 according to the latest state poll, moves to 15-1.
"We knew it would be sometime," Oran head coach Mitch Wood said about their unbeaten streak coming to an end. "I'm glad it's now rather than later on. We've been asking to get beat that last few games and no one has did it."
Naile threw all eight innings and allowed the high-powered Eagles' offense five hits -- three of which came in the first inning where Oran scored two of it's three runs. They scored their third run in the second.
However, after Oran's initial burst, Naile hit his stride. At one point, he, and a solid defense behind him, sat down eight batters in a row.
"Oran came out early and swung the bats," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "That kind of got us on our heels, but we withstood that first blow and hung around."
Although the Bluejays scored one run in the first and another in the second, they still found themselves down by one until the fifth inning.
Senior Ethan Browning led off the fifth with a single and was later able to score on an Oran error. The Eagles, uncharacteristically committed six defensive errors -- a trait they have relied on throughout their 15-straight wins.
"We didn't do a very good job of hitting," Wood said, "but what's gotten us so far is our pitching and defense. Defensively, we stunk it up pretty good. We gave them easy runs and gave them way too many outs. You can't play defense like that and expect to win a ball game."
Naile continued to keep Oran's lineup from producing any more runs. He worked out of what could have turned into a potentially big inning for the Eagles in the seventh.
After a leadoff walk to Kody Moore, who hit a double off the left field wall on the very first pitch of the game, Naile coaxed two fielder's choice plays and then a soft-lining pop up to second to get out of the inning unscathed.
"After the second inning I kind of settled down," Naile said. I felt like I had a lot of my pitches working. I wanted to get ahead of them and try to attack them so my defense could work. Luckily, they came through today, big time."
Needing eight innings to decide the outcome, Charleston benefitted from one of their hottest hitters as of late.
Centerfielder Trey Watkins, who finished the day 2 for 4, came to the plate with two outs and Stallings standing on second. He stood in the batter's box against one of the area's top pitchers in Moore, who relieved starter Dalton Elfrink in the sixth inning.
Watkins came through for the Bluejays with a deep fly ball to centerfield that fell just shy of Oran's Tyler Heuring, who had trouble gaining his footing in what was still a soupy outfield.
"I was comfortable and confident," said Watkins. "I've been hitting the ball pretty good lately so I was just up there confident and knew what I had to do."
Even with his troubles with the wet outfield grass, Heuring kept most of the crowd, and Watkins, in awe, wondering if the centerfielder had came up with the catch. Just a small, part of the ball could be seen after sticking instantly in the mud.
"I thought he had it," Watkins said. "My heart skipped a beat. But, I saw he dropped it so, I was good."
Watkins also helped out on the defensive side with a diving catch that saved another run from scoring in the second inning.
"Trey's probably improved as much as anybody," Minner said. "I think he's hitting around .320 now and we've moved him to the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He's hitting and his whole demeanor has changed defensively."
Nolan Urhahn led the Eagles with two hits, both singles. Elfrink lasted 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Moore. Elfrink allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and five walks. He also struck out five.
"I thought we scored enough to win a ball game behind Dalton," Wood said. "(Naile) did a good job of pitching -- we knew he would be good and that's something we couldn't control. We can control what we did and we didn't do a very good job on our end."
Stallings had three singles for Charleston while Naile added a double.
"We've said all year that the ability is there," Minner said. "We showed that today and played great defensively. We made plays and James threw the ball well. We've talked about this all year, if we make the routine plays we've got a shot to win at the end."
"We knew we had to play our best ball to beat them," Naile said. "We've had our ups and downs so far this season and we're just trying to get things going our way. We knew beating a good team like Oran could change our season over.
"We're battling right now and I think we're as good as anybody if we play like we can."
Charleston will travel to Saxony Lutheran today to take on the Crusaders at 4 p.m. while Oran hosts the Chaffee Red Devils at 4 p.m. as well.
Oran 210 000 00 -- 3
Charleston 101 010 01 -- 4
WP -- James Naile. LP -- Kody Moore. 2B -- (O) Moore; (C) Naile.