HS Baseball: Defensive Affair Ends with Oak Ridge Taking a Hard-Fought Victory

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 03/12/2024


OAK RIDGE NORTH, TX -- The Oak Ridge War Eagles defended their home diamond by defeating The Woodlands Highlanders in a defensive 1-0 matchup to start district play.

A defensive-heavy game plan went into effect from the opening pitch for both squads. The impressive fielding from both teams was anchored by steady pitching that constantly kept batters guessing with each trip to the plate.

Concerted efforts from both hitting rotations attempted to get runners into scoring position, but each time players got on, they were left stranded by their teammates.

The War Eagles were the first team to get a runner to second after an infield error and wild pitch landed him in scoring position. But the Highlanders clamped down, and pitcher Caleb Holifield struck out the next batter for the inning’s third out.

Holifield and Oak Ridge starter Aidan Morgan entered a duel following the light scare from the War Eagles. Their battle of stamina carried significant weight on the game’s overall outcome, with the first to break being the one who surrendered the game’s opening run.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Oak Ridge Head Coach Justin Peirce spoke on the frustrations of having to work around such a solid pitching game from The Woodlands.

“The main thing was just trying to get a runner on base,” said Peirce. “But [Holifield] had such a quick pick-off move that was too quick for us to get our running game going. He kept us off balance, and we just tried to scratch a few runs together.”

Oak Ridge’s continual effort to get runners on continued to be an ineffective strategy due to the steady work put in by Holifield, who finished the night with six strikeouts, and the rest of the Highlander defense. Their combined effort stranded six War Eagle runners on bases throughout the game.

In tandem with their opponent, The Woodlands also struggled to generate traction at the plate. The powerful Highlander hitters threatened deep shots toward centerfield, but they were handily taken by the staunch Oak Ridge outfield.

“I was unbelievably pleased,” said Pierce, praising his fielders. “All through tournaments, that’s been our strong point.”

The Highlanders also struggled with leaving runners on the bags. Throughout their hitting woes, the team left five runners stranded due to the seven strikeouts on the night from Morgan and level-headed play from the War Eagles.

The innings continued to fly by, with neither squad making the knock-out blow that would seal the game in their favor. In the intense moments in the sixth and seventh innings, the messaging from the coaches to the players was crucial. Don’t get over-anxious.

“With high school kids, momentum is everything,” said Peirce. “ We just had to get these guys to do what we needed to do versus trying to do too much. That was what gave us a shot to win the game.”

Oak Ridge’s shot to seal the deal came in extra innings in the top of the eighth. After throwing 113 pitches, Morgan’s night was done following a shutout performance where he was relieved by Nate Pendland.

Morgan had already given Pendland two outs in the inning, and the reliever was able to finish the job by signaling a three-up, three-down sequence for the Highlanders.

In response to Oak Ridge’s pitching change, the Highlanders pulled Holifiled and brought in Isiah Salas in the hopes of extending the game further.

Salas’ tenure on the mound got off to an immediate bad start by walking the lead-off War Eagle with none out. A follow-up wild pitch advanced the runner to second, and the chance for Oak Ridge to snag the win was within their grasp.

Two more wild throws brought home War Eagle Caiden Baker for the game-winning slide to home. The nail-biting affair ended in a 1-0 victory taken on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth.

With the win now in hand, Peirce and the rest of the Oak Ridge team can take a sigh of relief after notching their first district win of the season.

“The district is a gauntlet, so anytime you can get a win against any team, it's a plus,” said Peirce. “I think this win helps us relax, and when we play relaxed, that gives us a slight advantage.”

Oak Ridge will look to continue their district momentum with a matchup on Friday with another game against the same Woodlands Highlanders.

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