May 15—SANFORD — Kerr-Vance Academy arrived at Grace Christian on Friday, determined to start their quest for a fourth consecutive NCISAA 1A title in baseball on the right note with a win in the first game of the Championship Series.
What appeared to be a convincing win against an undefeated Grace Christian program fell apart in the closing stages for KVA, who were forced to watch their opponent celebrate a 9-6 victory achieved in eight innings.
"Our boys competed well today," head coach Mike Rigsbee said. "We pitched very well but it just didn't fall our way. We had them on the ropes a couple of times but we're going to battle back [today]. This is a three-game series."
KVA got on the board first with senior Michael Holtzman reaching home plate off a single from junior Shane Musselman.
Grace Christian evened up the score at the bottom of the second off a triple but a well-executed double play from the KVA outfield prevented them from doing anymore damage.
Neither side could gain an advantage until the bottom of the fourth inning when Grace Christian sophomore Landon Jones knocked a solo home run out toward left field to give his team a 2-1 lead.
Grace Christian added one more run before picking up their third out of the inning. Senior R.J. Johnson cut KVA's deficit in half with a run off senior Chance Murphy's single at the top of the fifth while Holtzman tied the game following an error in Grace Christian's outfield.
Grace Christian failed to re-establish control over the next two innings, creating an opportunity for Johnson to give KVA the lead at the top of the seventh after being batted in by Holtzman.
Musselman gave KVA their biggest advantage of the day at the perfect time after his double brought Murphy and Holtzman home.
With senior Joel Lewis facing a pitch count, Rigsbee elected to relieve him on the mound in favor of Murphy after KVA surrendered a run.
"In the championship series, you get a total of 120 pitches," Rigsbee said. "During the regular season, it's 105. [Grace Christian] raised some questions over that, so I told my guys that we just needed one out to finish it."
That one out would never come for KVA, as Grace Christian sophomore Jesse Mitchell proceeded to drain a home run out toward left field, which brought two runners home and tied the game at 6-6.
Rigsbee made another pitching change by substituting Murphy for Holtzman. While Grace Christian got two runners on base, KVA's outfield held steady and gave Grace Christian their third out, forcing extra innings.
It would only take one inning for Grace Christian to finish off a worn out KVA. Sophomore Brandon Crabtree had the honor with a walk-off home run to give his team a 9-6 win in Game 1.
KVA was left stunned and confused over the circumstances that led to their loss in the first game but Rigsbee affirmed that his roster is more than capable of closing out the series against Grace Christian with two wins.
"Everybody is going to be ready," Rigsbee said. "If everyone competes like they did today then we'll have no problems.
KVA will try to even up the series today at 1 p.m. against Grace Christian to keep their championship hopes alive. A win would force a third game scheduled to start 30 minutes after the second.