Monday night wasn’t a victory in the win column.
But it was a moral victory.
Columbia took defending Class 4A state champion Trinity Christian Academy into extra innings before ultimately falling 3-2 on the road.
The sound on the bus ride back was a sigh of relief that could be heard all the way in Lake City.
A sigh of relief for a team winless in three games?
That’s right, considering the opponent as well as the lackluster effort displayed in a 10-4 loss to Providence on Friday.
“They played hard and it was a relief for us coaches to watch it just because of how we got beat at home by Providence,” Columbia head coach Heath Phillips said. “For them to respond like they did was exciting.
The Tigers led 2-0 in the third inning after an RBI double by Kaleb Thomas and an RBI single by Jordan Culp. The Conquerors chipped away at the lead with a run in the bottom of the third and another in the sixth to tie it.
The Conquerors won with a bloop single in the eighth.
Usually, that would be heartbreaking for a baseball club.
But not for the Tigers.
They believe they now have something to build upon.
“It was very high intensity, high emotions, and a lot on the line because we didn’t have a good start (to the season) but we proved what we could be last night, even though the ball didn’t fall in our favor,” Thomas said. “We still stepped up, and there’s much bigger things to come.”
After Friday’s loss to Providence, Phillips held a team meeting with all his seniors with a simple message — take ownership of your season.
He believes that began Monday night.
“We got to build (on) what we accomplished (Monday),” Phillips said. “I had a meeting with the seniors and told them, ‘This is your team. There’s 14 of you guys, so it’s on you guys. Let’s do this. Let’s go about our business the right way.’ And they responded (Monday).”
Nic Tyre started on the mound for Columbia, giving up just one run on two hits with four strikeouts, and Phillips said he kept the Conquerors off balance at the plate throughout his first start of the season. Tyre was then relieved by Harrison Shubert, who finished off the rest of the game.
Shubert gave up the last two runs on five hits but also had four strikeouts in his first loss of the season.
But one thing Tyre and Shubert both had in common was putting the leadoff man on base. Both pitchers allowed a run to score after walking the leadoff hitter in the inning.
That’s something Phillips says the entire staff needs to work on, not just Tyre and Shubert.
“The biggest out of each inning is the leadoff guy. You can build (on) it with each pitch. You’re going to be a whole lot more successful getting the leadoff guy out,” Phillips said.
Phillips has harped on it over and over again – the Tigers are playing the schedule they have in order to be successful in district play.
That’s when the games matter.
And the Tigers shined in those a year ago.
They’re remembered for those victories, not the losing streaks they endured on their way there.
“I want to go out and compete against the best. If they beat us 10-0 every game, I know where we are as a unit,” Phillips said. “I know what work we have to put in to get to that level, and where we are right now is close. We’re a lot further along than we were last year at this time. I think it’ll pay off in the end. The coaching staff is not worried about it at all. We like where we are.”
The Tigers hope to get their first victory on Friday when they host Chiles.