Oneida entered Thursday's District 4-A championship at Bear Creek looking for its first back-to-back district championships in school history.
Oakdale entered Thursday's game looking for its first district championship in school history.
Either way, something was bound to give.
And for the first six innings of Thursday's game, the only thing that gave was the ERA of Oneida ace Matt Williams.
Williams, who finished the regular season giving up only eight earned runs — none of them in district play, saw Oakdale's hard-hitting bats put four earned runs on the board through the game's first five innings.
And with Oakdale ace Devin Ruppe sitting down seven of the last eight Oneida batters he faced, the stage was set for an upset heading into the seventh inning. Down 5-4, Oakdale had the top of its order — a hard-hitting trio that had combined for two runs and an RBI double the last time they cycled through, in the fifth inning — due up.
But Williams needed just five pitches to retire the side, sitting down Oakdale's top three in one-two-three fashion. On the fifth pitch, right-fielder Jordan Terry snagged a deep fly ball, and the celebration was on for Oneida. In right field, Oneida coach Shawn West embraced his nephew, regular season district MVP Cole West. Assistant coach Tony Williams wrapped his son, Matt Williams, in a bear hug just moments before it was announced that Williams had been named MVP of the tournament.
"Tonight's game was a hard game to win, because they came to hit," West said. "The key was to make no errors. That was it. And we didn't."
Until last season, the Indians had not won a district championship since 1982, though they came close in 2012 by reaching the championship game.
West, who earned his 100th career win on Tuesday night as his team advanced to the championship game, said the program's newfound success is the result of an entirely new approach to baseball.
"We had to change our work ethic," West said. "We had to change the way kids thought about baseball. We had to make people believe we were a baseball school as well as a football school and a basketball school."
Thursday's win over the Eagles — who would have needed two wins to prevent Oneida from claiming the crown — handed the Indians their first back-to-back district championships in school history and left the team just three wins away from a potential trip to the state tournament.
Oakdale, which fell 6-1 to Oneida twice in the final week of the regular season, was not intimidated by facing the Indians on their home field, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the second inning and keeping Oneida on its toes all night.
Austin Lowe tripled in the top of the second, then scored on an RBI single by Andrew Hill, to give the Eagles the early lead.
But Oneida bounced back in the bottom of the third, with three runs. Terry — who batted six-of-nine in the tournament and was named to the all-tournament team — singled, then advanced to third on a double by Cole West, who was also named to the all-tournament team.
A two-run double by all-tournament honoree Caleb Lee — who finished three-of-three with four RBIs and two doubles in Thursday's game — drove home both Terry and West. Tanner Sexton walked and was driven home by Colby Jeffers' RBI single. Jeffers, likewise, was named to the all-tournament team.
Coalfield scored a run in the top of the fourth when Lowe singled and was driven home by Bryan Goldston.
But Oneida scored two more in the bottom half of the inning. Terry and West both singled, and both were driven home by Lee on another two-run double.
After that, Oakdale pitcher Devin Ruppe began to settle down. The Eagles' top pitcher sat down seven of eight Oneida batters the rest of the way, shutting down the Indians' plate production.
The Eagles, meanwhile, tacked on two runs in the top of the fifth to make things interesting. Landon Botkin and Brady Bingham both singled, and scored on RBIs by Justin Moore and Lowe.
The game went to the top of the seventh still at 5-4. But Williams — not rattled by the success of Oakdale's bats against his pitches — needed just five pitchers to put the wraps on it, forcing Botkin and Bingham into ground-outs before Moore's fly ball ended it.
After Colby Jeffers snagged a throw from Sexton to record the out on Bingham at first, Williams pointed one finger to the sky, urging his teammates to hold on for one more out.
"Matt knows that if he'll pitch pitches, we'll back him up," West said.
And back him up, they did, with Terry camping under Moore's fly ball for the final out.
West praised the unshakable confidence of his junior pitcher.
"Matt has learned to have a lot of confidence," West said. "He's still growing. The ceiling is nowhere near where it can be for Matt by this time next year."
The win means that Oneida will host a regional semifinal game against Midway on Monday. The Green Wave were a preseason favorite to win District 3-A but fell to Grace Christian, 4-0, in Thursday's District 3 championship game.
Midway will bring to Bear Creek an exceptional pitcher in Christian Moore.
With a win there, the Indians can host the regional championship on Wednesday. West made it clear he expects to be playing beyond Monday's elimination game.
"These aren't boys I'm coaching anymore," he said. "These are men . . . men who understand work ethic."