Gillingham has stated several times his team was on the cusp of “coming together” and the team’s sense of timing for doing that couldn’t have been better.
The M’s overcame a six-run deficit to defeat the Dillon Cubs in a 12-11 thriller that included Karsen Krebs knocking in the game-winning run scored by Brenden Blood in a 12-11 opening game victory in the Firecracker Tournament Saturday night at Mission Valley Mariners’ Stadium.
For Krebs, it was redemption from last season’s disappointment in the Firecracker Championship game against Livingston.
Last year, Brendon Blood began the inning with a left field double and proceeded to advance to third on a bunt. When Krebs had an opportunity to knock Blood in for the winning run, he came up short.
“Karsen came up to bat, popped it up away from the dugout, everyone cleared the bases, no one was at home and the catcher catches the ball,” Blood recalled. “I take off to home and it was a close play. I thought I was safe but things didn’t go our way last year.”
Fast-forward to this season, and Krebs and Blood found themselves in a nearly identical situation. This time, Krebs nor Blood would be denied.
Krebs hit a line drive away from Blood to seal the one-run game in the bottom of the sixth. The game was ended because of the time limit.
“We stuck it out again and coming into that last at-bat, it was super surreal,” Krebs said. “I happened to hit the ball opposite of Brendon between first and second. We were able to beat a good young ball club. We kept the pressure on them and they kept up right with us.”
Aside from winning, Krebs said he was motivated by trying to save pitcher Tyson Petticrew from being overused in a game.
“I didn’t want have to see Tyson go another inning because we need arms,” Krebs said.
Krebs said his team needed this for a “morale boost.”
“This was right around the conference season, and we had some big wins,” Krebs said. “It was just a big confidence booster. I think we know what we are capable of and guys are starting to realize what a great opportunity we have. This game was a nail-biter and honestly, our team needed a reality check.”
Blood, who was in a slump when he came up to bat, received a talk from his teammate Tyson Petticrew before his at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“Coming up to bat, I was trying to ignite things and Tyson gave me a pep talk and told me to ‘do your thing,’” Blood said. “That is when I blasted a ball into the gap. That was my first solid hit in a while. I was thinking ‘we are winning the game and this is going to happen.’ Then, on the Dillon pitchers second throw, he threw a wild pitch and I slid into third base.’”
Blood said he felt this victory was huge for his team’s confidence moving forward as the team heads down the stretch of the regular season and prepares for districts.
“We had no doubt we were going to win this game,” Blood said. “It’s been a tough season and we finally rose to the occasion. Now we are playing our best baseball.”
In Gillingham’s experience, winning this game is the type of game that can change an entire season.
“You get butterflies in your stomach after games like this,” Gillingham said. “This is the type of game that shows what a team’s true heart is and we didn’t roll over and quit. We continued to push through even when we were down six runs. The kids came back and played their heart out.”
Gillingham said he felt his team’s confidence is steadily improving as they begin to come of age during the middle of the season.
“It’s a huge confidence builder,” Gillingham said. “My team could have rolled over and died. Instead, they pulled through and played their hearts out. It’s super big for our confidence. We can’t look past any team in front of us. We are super young and have some great talent. It was great we were able to come together in front of our home crowd.”