By BRYAN GIBBONS
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
After a week that saw the 11th-ranked John Wood Community College baseball team forfeit 16 victories due to an ineligible player, Brock Best was ready to get back on the field.
It was a chance to return to normalcy.
"It was great getting back out there," Best said. "We wanted to bounce back positively. It was fun getting out here."
Best was able to shake off a rough start and help JWCC beat Parkland College 9-6 in its first game since the NJCAA sanctions were levied. The forfeit dropped the Trail Blazers from first place in the MidWest Athletic Conference to eighth and put them in jeopardy of missing the Region 24 Tournament.
Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader was postponed to lightning.
Parkland scored three runs in the first inning before Best settled in. The sophomore pitcher lasted seven innings, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out six.
"I knew we had a long game ahead of us," Best said. "We can score some runs, so I just stood calm and tried to keep it close."
Best's persistence paid off for JWCC (16-26, 8-17 MWAC). After scoring just one run over the first six innings, the Trail Blazers' bats busted through for three runs in the seventh to tie the game.
"With all the adversity we've faced, it would have been really easy for him to let down a little and give in," JWCC coach Greg Wathen said. "But he's a competitor. He knows that he's our ace, and he stood up like the leader of a staff should."
Ari Fabian led off the bottom of the seventh with a double and reached third on a Parkland throwing error. Following a strikeout, Matt Priest drove him in with an infield single to the shortstop.
Three batters later, Brennen Hurley ripped a single into left field to move Tyler Johnson to second and score Priest, trimming the deficit to one.
Aldair Adamus popped a 1-2 pitch high into shallow left field, and Parkland's shortstop lost the ball in the sun. It fell for a single, allowing Johnson to score and tie the game 4-4.
"With the situation the way it is and falling behind early with our ace, I'm very proud of the way we fought," Wathen said. "To stay resilient like that and not fold is tremendous."
The Trail Blazers managed to keep the momentum in the eighth, scoring five runs on the strength of two home runs.
After Jalen Poindexter led off the inning with a solo shot over the left field wall, JWCC put runners on first and second base with a single and a walk.
Johnson knocked what appeared to be a routine single into center field, only for the ball to take a high bounce over the fielder's head and roll to the wall. The sophomore sprinted around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
"I turned on the afterburners as soon as it bounced," Johnson said. "It's my first one at the collegiate level."
Parkland managed two more runs in the top of the ninth, but couldn't overcome the deficit.
Best believed his coach's optimism after the forfeited games was a big reason behind the team's determination.
"He kept us positive," Best said. "He told us that there's nothing we can do about it, and that we just need to worry about what we can control."
Johnson sees no reason why the sanctions should shorten JWCC's season. The Trail Blazers still have an opportunity to play in the postseason if they win out.
"The whole situation was something that we can't change," Johnson said. "We're staying positive and looking forward."