Timing proved to be everything for Smiths Station right fielder Jared Head against Sparkman on Saturday.
Up to bat with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh inning, Head bided his time at the plate. With the Panthers trailing 5-3, he took the first pitch from Senators’ Trevor Shelton for a ball, setting himself up to look fastball next. Shelton offered what Head was waiting for, so Head squared up and swung at the pitch.
Head had never hit a walk-off home run in his high school career. In fact, he’d never hit a home run at the high school level at all.
That, however, all changed with this swing.
Head’s hard-hit ball cleared the fence, giving him his first career home run and sending Smiths Station out with a 6-5 victory.
“I haven’t really been swinging the bat well,” said Head, who went 2-for-4 in the victory. “My swing has kind of been messed up, so to be able to connect on one and get a fastball I could hit was a great feeling.”
Despite having never hit a home run as a Panther, Head said he felt pretty good about his chances once he made contact.
“It came off the bat well,” Head said. “Yeah, I thought it was gone.”
Head’s teammates mobbed him once he cleared the bases, setting off an electric celebration around home plate. The game-ending hit was not only a huge highlight for Head, but it was an instance of Smiths Station finishing after getting so close in the late innings.
After Sparkman put up three runs in the fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead, the Panthers repeatedly threatened to inch back into the game. Smiths Station put up only one run in the fifth and sixth innings after putting six runners on base.
The story looked no different in the seventh. Justin Owens began the inning with a single, and Jerry Dale Bowman followed with a single of his own. However, the situation took a turn during Austin Thaxton’s at-bat, as his bunt attempt was quickly fielded and fired to third base, getting the lead runner out.
The failed bunt left Smiths Station head coach Michael Ferry perplexed about what his team could do next. Head’s at-bat followed Thaxton’s, so Ferry didn’t have too long to worry about it.
“After the bunt failed, I wasn’t sure what we were going to have to put together to get those runs across and at least tie the game up,” Ferry said. “It was just a big hit at the right time. He squared it up like we teach them to do every day in (batting practice) and got the job done.”
Ferry commended Head’s approach at the plate, saying the team’s mantra is to hunt fastballs. He said the 1-0 count certainly helped Head get what he was looking for; it was then just a matter of connecting with a good swing.
As the players began clearing out of the dugout, Ferry sent someone to retrieve the ball that was now sitting somewhere over the outfield wall. After all, it’s not every day that a player hits a walk-off and his first home run with one swing of the bat.
Even if the ball couldn’t be recovered, it’s unlikely Head will forget the moment any time soon.
“It was great,” Head said. “It was a feeling I’d never had.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports