Peyton Gray has been waiting his entire life for an opportunity like the one he found himself with Friday night. With a perfect district record on the line and in front of the largest home crowd of the season, dream became reality for the senior second baseman.
With a 2-1 count and runners at second and first, Gray delivered a single to score Justin McCready from second, lifting Minden (13-9, 7-0) past North DeSoto 2-1 in a nine-inning thriller at Griffith Stadium.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive,” Gray said after a wild postgame celebration. “I was focused on staying down, trying to hit the ball hard somewhere and give my guys a chance to get home.”
Gray’s walk-off single was the culmination of a total team effort.
Tide starter Gavin Smith gave Minden 8 1/3 innings of brilliance on the mound. Smith pounded the zone all night, striking out three batters and walking two while allowing four hits.
“I was locating my fastball,” Smith said. “That’s really what got me through the game. Our defense is the best around, I love ‘em, man.”
Gunner Stephens entered in relief of Smith in the ninth. After a botched force out at second, runners were at second and first for North DeSoto with only one out. If Stephens was phased, he didn’t show it because he calmly refocused and struck out the next two batters he faced to end the inning and preserve the 1-1 tie.
The Tide trailed 1-0 in the sixth before Smith singled to shallow center. A sacrifice bunt by Matt Eskew moved Smith into scoring position. Trace Francis did the honors from there, sending a line drive to right field to score Smith and tie the game at 1-1.
In the decisive ninth inning, McCready singled to start things off. Aubrey Dennis stepped up and laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt moving McCready to second. North DeSoto opted to intentionally walk Cade Coleman, who had burned the Griffins for a deep double earlier in the game, bringing up Gray.
Gray took it from there, sending the walk-off single to shallow right.
The ensuing dogpile was a sight to behold, with everyone, except head coach Dean Francis getting in on the action.
Francis knew this team was capable of great things back in February, now he has validation.
“I’ve been waiting to see this team,” Francis told his team postgame. “This game was a heck of a battle. After tonight, nobody can tell me this isn’t a heck of a ball team.”