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Jacksonville Christian ‘Just lucky’

Jacksonville Christian players celebrate after completing its comeback from a 7-0 deficit to beat Faith Christian 8-7 on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville Christian players celebrate after completing its comeback from a 7-0 deficit to beat Faith Christian 8-7 on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville, AL – In a game that saw Miller ejected and six hit batsmen in JCA’s improbable rally, the Thunder walks it off against Faith in winner-take-all game for playoff berth.

By Joe Medley

Maybe Tommy Miller should get himself ejected from more games.

With the long-time Jacksonville Christian coach across multiple sports watching from outside the lines, the Thunder mounted its comeback from a seven-run deficit to beat Faith Christian 8-7 on Friday at Henry Farm Park.

The victory in a winner-take-all game clinched JCA’s fifth berth in the Alabama High School Athletic Association baseball playoffs and first since 2016.

Jacksonville Christian players celebrate after completing its comeback from a 7-0 deficit to beat Faith Christian 8-7 on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville Christian players celebrate after completing its comeback from a 7-0 deficit to beat Faith Christian 8-7 on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville Christian players pose for a team picture after their victory over Faith Christian on Friday at Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville Christian players pose for a team picture after their victory over Faith Christian on Friday at Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Miller, also a pastor, said the Thunder’s comeback confirmed a feeling he had when Faith led 7-0 ahead of JCA’s fifth-inning at bat.

“You’re probably not going to believe this, but 7-0 was the first time I thought we were going to win,” Miller said. “It’s like, I don’t know why.

“Everything had gone against us. Everything.”

That included circumstances that set up Friday’s game as a winner-take-all game for two Class 1A, Area 12 foes.

JCA took two of three games in its area series with Ragland last week, winning the tiebreaking Game 3 16-15 on April 4. Faith lost its games with Ragland, but Ragland had to forfeit for violating pitch-count rules.

JCA beat Faith 14-4 on Monday, setting up Friday’s rain-postponed game to determine which team made the playoffs.

Faith Christian’s Carson Harris narrowly beats a throw home to score a run against Jacksonville Christian on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Faith Christian’s Carson Harris narrowly beats a throw home to score a run against Jacksonville Christian on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Faith built its 7-0 lead with a run apiece in the first and third innings, three in the fourth and two in the top of the fifth. Carson Harris and Will Smith each went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and starting pitcher Jayden Smith looked well on his way to victory.

Smith allowed two hits and two earned runs with six strikeouts before exiting at 4 2/3 innings.

“I think the guys played the best six innings they’ve played all year,” Faith coach Joshua Ray said. “Only bad thing is that we play seven innings, and we have to be able to finish the game.

“Jayden Smith threw a great game and really made their lineup struggle, and we had some good at bats and manufactured some runs, but we have to be able to finish.”

Miller couldn’t finish, either. The base umpire ejected him during JCA’s three-run fifth, after Miller questioned the plate umpire about a no-balk call.

JCA pitcher Jesse Gannaway drew a balk call in the fourth inning, and Miller cited the explanation given when questioning a no-balk call in the fifth.

The base umpire warned Miller earlier in the game, when Miller attempted to instruct a batter based on how strikes and balls were being called.

Miller spent most of JCA’s comeback behind the backstop. JCA assistant Steven Lee served as acting head coach, and Scott Morgan came out of the dugout to coach first base.

“It did have the right effect, but the thing is, I ain’t said a word to that base ump all night, not one,” Miller said. “He throws me out of the ballgame.”

Things still looked bleak for JCA after a scoreless sixth inning, but Miller’s feeling about a comeback came to fruition in the seventh. The Thunder scored five runs on singles by Travis Barnhill and Noah Lee and six hit batsmen over the next eight batters.

Jacksonville Christian’s Travis Barnhill beats a throw to lead off the Thunder’s seventh-inning rally against Faith Christian on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville Christian’s Travis Barnhill beats a throw to lead off the Thunder’s seventh-inning rally against Faith Christian on Friday at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)

It came down to Barnhill’s second at bat of the inning, and he drew upon a recent encounter … with Ragland, of all teams. With a 3-1 count, Barnhill wore a ball with bases loaded to end JCA’s 16-15 victory in the Ragland series’ tiebreaking game.

With two outs and a playoff berth on the line and a 3-1 count Friday, Barnhill became hit batsman No. 6 in JCA’s seventh-inning rally.

“I got hit in the same exact spot,” Barnhill said.

Moses Averette trotted home from third base and took a head-first, celebratory slide for the winning run, and the Thunder dogpiled Barnhill near first base.

Jacksonville Christian’s Moses Averette scores the game-winning run against Faith Christian on Friday at Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville Christian’s Moses Averette scores the game-winning run against Faith Christian on Friday at Henry Farm Park. (Photo by Joe Medley)

“Our team started this thing when we beat Ragland the first time,” Barnhill said. “You get up there, and we’re in a game like that, where we get to the end, you can’t step out. If you step out, then you know you’re going to run poles.

“We knew it. Once he hit the first two batters, I walked up there, I was like, ‘If something comes inside, I’m just going to tuck. It’s probably going to hit me.’”

The game’s ending hit hardest in the Faith dugout.

“Always hate to lose like that, but it’s part of the game,” Ray said. “I hate it especially for my seniors that have given so much to the program.”

As for JCA’s first playoff berth in eight years, Barnhill said, part of the joy comes in how it happened.

“It’s a very controversial win, too, and it’s just lucky,” he said. “We’re just happy to be in this position.”

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