Better late than never.
Oil City's 12U Little League all-star squad trailed 8-2 heading into its final at-bat against Knox/Rimersburg/Emlenton in the District 25 winner's bracket semifinal at Rennie Schneider Field. Luckily, though, the hometown boys saved their best for last, erupting for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth with Braylon Barber providing a walk-off single that scored Casey Rybak for a 9-8 victory.
"They just didn't give up," Oil City manager Andy Brosius said after the victory. "I knew we could hit the ball. It was just a matter of time before it stopped going right at them every time. I'm surprised, but I expected that to happen a lot earlier in the game. I was a little worried going into the sixth, but it left me at a loss for words."
Hank Lockhart, who led OC with three hits in the game, led off the epic final frame by smoking a ball to the fence in right-center. It was hit so hard that he could only manage a single out of it before the next batter grounded out the pitcher, moving Lockhart over to second.
Gavin Stephens stepped up and ripped an RBI double high off the centerfield fence on the fly. Gavin Keith followed by stroking a single down the right-field line to score Stephens before Bryce Stewart kept the wheel spinning with a single to left, putting runners on first and second.
That also spelled the end of the outing on the mound for KRE starting pitcher Chase Ruth, who up until that point had tossed a gem.
A fresh arm in the form of Drew Keth, however, did nothing to slow down the Oil City sticks as Dominick Dawes welcomed him with a two-run double to right-center that pulled OC to within 8-6.
With the Oil City faithful in a frenzy, the jitters began to set in for KRE as a lazy fly ball to left field was misplayed, setting up an RBI single off the bat of Rybak to pull OC within one.
Keth was then lifted from the game in favor of Owen Saylor, and he induced a fly ball to center, but it was also mishandled, allowing the tying run to scramble home while still leaving runners at first and third.
By that point, OC had batted around and Lockhart stepped to the dish and sent a liner to third, but it was snared out of the air, leaving Oil City with one last chance to end the game.
And, it was Barber who played the hero, lining a single back up the middle to plate the winning as the OC players stormed the field.
"Everyone contributed," Brosius said. "It was a team effort. There's not a single kid you can just point out because it was everybody stepping up."
Up until the game-ending theatrics, KRE seemed to be in firm control behind Ruth's efforts as he tossed a shutout through the first three frames, allowing his squad to build a 6-0 lead.
The first three of those runs came in the top of the first when Keth led off with a single before being chased all the way around the bases on a triple down the right-field line from Caden Burns. Saylor drove in the second run with a single up the middle before he eventually scored on an RBI single from Owen Bish that capped off the opening outburst.
The lead was extended to 5-0 in the second on a run-scoring single from Keth and a sacrifice fly from Sebastian Link before Keth added another RBI single in the thrid to make it 6-0.
Oil City finally got on the board in the fourth as Lockhart led off with a double, setting up an RBI single from Stephens. OC would add another run in the fifth when Rybak doubled before racing home on a Rylend Geib single.
In the top of the sixth, KRE seemingly put the game out of reach with two more runs, but it just made Oil City's comeback that much more dramatic half an inning later.
In addition to Lockhart's three hits in the win, Rybak and Stephens added a pair of knocks each while Stephens drove home a pair of runs with Dawes doing the same. On the mound, Elijah Brosius started the game, going 3 1/3 innings before giving way to Rybak, who settled things down a bit by throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Stewart came in to toss the sixth and earn the win.
Keth and Saylor paced KRE with three hits and two RBIs each.
Oil City now advances to the winner's bracket final, where it will take on Clarion at Oil City at 6 p.m. on Saturday while KRE falls into the loser's bracket, where it will olay at New Bethlehem at 6 p.m.