Bottom of the ninth with two outs and the game on the line. It’s the situation kids dream of as they play baseball in the backyard, but when Conner Corbitt stepped up to the plate as the last chance for UNG on Sunday, this time, he wasn’t dreaming. He was trying to stay calm.
“I was like, ‘I gotta be calm and just not freak out,’ because that’s the opportunity you dream about,” Corbitt said.
Corbitt was able to stay calm until just after the curveball he smacked flew over the outfield wall. Then, he and the rest of the UNG baseball team went crazy, celebrating a walk-off win and three-game sweep of Georgia Southwestern State University.
“The first pitch, he hung a curveball, I really wanted to swing at that, but I thought it was too early,” Corbitt said. “Somehow I knew he was going to throw that curveball again, so I was sitting on it.”
However, that bit of prophecy wasn’t the only prediction made.
Having just given up the lead, the Nighthawks headed into the dugout before the last half inning. Corbitt and a teammate had a sudden realization: Corbitt was going to be the hero.
“Me and Kyle Luigs were talking about it after that guy hit the home run in the top of the ninth,” Corbitt said. “We were seeing the lineup and how it was going and just kind of looked at each other like ‘Man, it’s going to come down to me, I think.’”
The Nighthawks gave up the first run of the game in the top of the sixth inning before Andres Perez took the first pitch of the bottom half of the sixth deep to tie the game, 1-1. The home run was Perez’s fourth of the two-day homestand.
A two-out single from freshman Nick Clarno gave UNG a 2-1 lead later in the inning, scoring Cade Heil. North Georgia held that lead until the ninth inning when a GSW two-run home run changed the game.
Facing a one-run deficit, freshman Crews Taylor started the ninth inning rally with a pinch-hit walk, putting the tying-run on first. Chase Sudduth laid down a sacrifice bunt in the next at-bat, putting the tying-run in scoring position. A fly out to left field brought Perez to the plate with two outs, but GSW decided not to allow the sophomore, with four home runs and seven RBI already on the weekend, to do any more damage and intentionally walked him.
“Obviously I wanted to hit, I can’t say I don’t, but I had the utmost confidence in Corbo to go and do what he did, the most exciting thing that you can do,” Perez said.
“Andres had a great weekend, and they weren’t going to let him beat them, I wouldn’t let him beat us either, but [Corbitt] is pretty good too,” head coach Tom Cantrell said.
It seemed everything had aligned. Even the past week of practice seemed aimed at this moment.
“He hung a breaking-ball and we worked on that this week as a matter of fact, hitting breaking-balls and understanding how to hit them,” Cantrell said.
Corbitt took care of business with a home run swing, then finished with a mighty bat-flip and celebratory trot around the bases with a Gatorade-dowsing awaiting at home plate, the ingredients that baseball dreams are made of.
“That’s what you dream about,” Corbitt said. “You got to live it up, you got to enjoy it. I took my time around the bases, just soaking it all in, it was awesome.”
As always, Coach Cantrell enjoyed watching his players be successful.
“[I’m] happy for him, to be in that moment and respond,” Cantrell said. “When you’re in a moment like that and you respond, that’s a big deal. To do what he just did, that’s huge.”
And he hopes getting the walk-off win will help the team as a whole going forward.
“It’s exciting for us to win in that fashion, because this team has really been struggling with confidence,” Cantrell said. “And so hopefully this will be something that we can carry with us momentum-wise.”