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Chapter 1134 V3 ch368 CIF Final: Branham HS (7)

"I am calm." I stressed as we went to sit down. "It was just a brief second. I think it's because I had a nightmare that night after her accident that I just was stunned. I don't want to be like this, you know."

"I know." He reassured me. "I'm just trying to help you from doing that again. It was dangerous. Especially for you to tag the runner. Honestly would have been better for you to just throw to first to get that first out. Then Garret could load the bases and the following guy could hit into a double play or force out at home."

I glanced at Garret who was leaving the dugout to start our offense. "You think Garret's going out again to finish the game next inning?"

"Probably." Noah shrugged. "But you can bet someone will be warming up. Coach won't risk the game just for him."

I nodded in agreement. Coach wasn't afraid of benching anyone.

Garret had a decent day at the plate so far. An RBI single with a run scored against the first pitcher. And then the intentional walk after my double. This time, that same pitcher went ahead and challenged him with the bases empty. On a 2-2 count, Garret sent the ball flying to left field.

Everyone in the dugout jumped up and leaned against the fence to watch the left fielder chasing the ball back.

"C'mon!" Noah clenched his fist. "Get out of here!"

I slowly shook my head after I saw the trajectory. "He didn't have enough power. It's tough to hit an opposite way homer."

The left fielder got to the warning track and put a hand back towards the wall. The ball fell into his outstretched glove for the first out.

"Tch." Noah clicked his teeth. "What a shame."

"The closest anyone has gotten to getting out of the park." I said in agreement. I glanced to our right and saw Dave warming up with Oscar in the open bullpen area, just further down. "Looks like Dave is getting ready."

Noah nodded. "As he should." He lifted a shoulder in a half shrug kind of way. "Just in case."

I nodded.

Brian was up next. He pulled the ball to left field, but didn't have the power behind it either. The left fielder made his second catch and second out of the inning.

I could hear the infielders chatter, cheering for their teammate on the mound. One more out to go, they said. The pitcher looked exhausted, having done a good job in five innings now. It occurred to me that last time we played, he only went about the same amount of distance. His endurance might be capped at a certain pitch count limit. I could see it. He walked Sean, but bounced back with a strikeout from Jason.

"Damn, he's good." Noah said for the upteenth time tonight.

"I think that might be it for him." I said as we grabbed our gloves and took the field. I shared my insights with Noah about his endurance and how he might have hit his limit.

Noah nodded. "That would make sense why they tried to go with a different starter. Maybe like as opener like they do in the pros. But it didn't work out for them."

We split up and went to our respective positions. Top of the seventh. This was out. Three outs away from another championship win. With Garret on the mound and a two run lead, I felt pretty good.

Until the first batter ripped a line drive fo right field. Brian made a diving catch, saving it from being a hit. The crowd clapped at the amazing play, yet I was starting to feel a little nervous. Rightfully so when Garret walked the next batter.

"No worries! We've got this." Noah said, clapping with his glove. "One out, play is at first and second!" He glanced at me.

My heart started to pound. And my stomach felt like it wanted fo flip. I was sweaty and nervous. Please don't come my way, I prayed as Garret started to face the next batter. The lefty. Lefties are more prone to hit grounders towards second. If a grounder comes my way…

'<nullb>Ding'

The ball flew off the guys bat to left-center field. Logan and Bryce were both racing towards the spot to get there.

"I've got it!" Logan yelled loud enough that it echoed in the mostly empty stadium. He slid and made the catch. He then tossed the ball up to Bryce. Bryce hurried to get the throw in before the runner could tag up and make it to second. Noah was the cutoff guy and redirected the ball to me at second.

I was late to tag the incoming sliding leg and everyone knew it.

"Safe!" The umpire extended his arms.

Ugh.

"Time?" The runner requested.

"Time!" The umpire granted.

I walked the ball towards the mound, feeling a mix of emotions. Relief that Logan made such a great catch. Stressed that we had a runner on second. And a little nauseous.

"One more out to go." Noah said, jogging in to see me do the transfer. He glanced at me. "You okay?"

I gave the ball to Garret and gave Noah a weak smile. "The ball didn't get hit my way so it's not so bad."

Noah patted my shoulder. "Play's at first. Easy peasy. You've got this."

We both went back to our positions. The unexpected happen when the game resumed and Garret threw his first pitch to the new batter. His cutter broke in like normal, except not. It nailed the batter on the knee. The batter went down with a yelp and his third base coach went to check on him.

"Shit." Garret muttered, walking off the mound.

We all joined him. Me. Noah. Sean. Jason. Mitchell. And then…Coach came out.

Garret looked up at the sky, only able to see the black night contrasting with the bright lights. "What a suckass way to end the season."

No one could say any words of comfort.

Coach held out his hand and patted Garret on the back. "You've done well, captain."

"Doesn't feel like it." He muttered and handed the ball over. "Am I sitting the bench as we let Dave close things out."

"You can finish this game on the field." Coach told him. He pointed to center field. "Send Bryce in."

"Thanks, Coach." Garret walked off before breaking out into a jog to center field.

Bryce jogged in when he noticed that Garret was coming for him. Soon, Dave joined us on the mound. The batter that was pegged was helped back to his dugout by his coaches and probably a trainer. A pinch runner was sent out to first.

"I thought I wasn't going to get a chance." Dave grinned as he accepted the baseball from Coach.

Coach glanced at the upcoming hitter. "Looks like they took their pitcher out. A pinch hitter we know nothing of. Don't take it easy."

"I've got this, Coach." Dave nodded.

We all stepped off to give him the mound. Mitchell went back to home plate to catch some of the practice pitches as Coach went to the umpire to talk about the player and position changes.

"Two outs! One to go!" Noah said after the umpire called for the game to resume.

All of us were in position. Sean at first, me at second, Noah at short, Jason at third. Mitchell behind the plate and Dave on the mound. Mitchell gave the signs and got set. Dave glanced over his shoulder briefly before starting his motion. The runner at second! There was a runner at second! I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

The batter swung and connected on Dave's first pitch, ripping it to the left field corner. Logan didn't have any hope to catch it, plus both runners were racing.

"Home!"

"Go home!"

"HOME!"

Everyone was screaming repeatedly. The offense and the defense. The runners wanted to score and we needed to stop them. Logan got the ball and threw it in to Noah who was standing on the outfield grass. Noah turned the relay and threw it to Mitchell, who was guarding home plate as the runner from first came barreling in. They collided. The ball popped out.

"SAFE!!!!!" The umpire stated.

Dave got the ball and did a pump throw to make the batter retreat to second base.

The damage was done. We lost the lead. We lost the momentum. And…it kind of felt like…we already lost the game.

Coach came out of the dugout to check on Mitchell and walked him to the mound towards Dave. The rest of us infielders joined too.

"We fucked up." Sean groaned.

corners and rely on Mitchell making the catches."

Dave looked unsure. "Is that what you were doing with Garret?"

"It's my fault." Mitchell had his mask off and looked more tired than I had ever seen. "I didn't think to change signs with Dave."

"Change signs?" Dave was confused. "Listen. If it was anyone's fault, it was mine. It's hard coming into a game cold."

"Okay, okay." Coach cut in. "As happy as I am to hear that you all want to fight for fault and be responsible. The problem lies with me. I let it slip." He looked at Dave. "When there's been a runner at second, he's been tipping off pitch locations. Throw to the corners and rely on Mitchell making the catches."

Dave looked unsure. "Is that what you were doing with Garret?"

"No, we had a number system." Mitchell eyed the umpire headed our way. "No time to explain."

"Let's pick the runner off at second instead." Noah said in a low voice, covering his mouth with his glove. "No signs. Dave. We've got this. You throw it my side. Fast and low."

Dave grinned. "Okay. Now we're talking."

"Time is up." The umpire warned. He signed that a mound visit was used. "Next time your coach comes out, it's for a pitcher change."

"Yes." Coach headed back to our dugout.

Mitchell went back towards home plate with the ump. We went back to our positions too. Everyone got set…the runner on second took a small lead, keeping an eye on Noah on his backside. Noah played it cool, standing further away than the runner, heels almost back on the grass. As soon as the runner saw that, he took more of a lead and looked at Mitchell, giving out fake signs.

All of a sudden, Noah sprinted to second. Dave stepped off the rubber and threw a bullet to Noah's feet. Noah already had his glove in the dirt. The runner made a dive back to the bag. Noah's glove landed on his. Just before the base.

"OUT!" The closest umpire yelled and the crowd erupted in stunned applause.