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Sophomoric thump

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Osteen, fellow Chiefland underclassmen fuel district baseball tournament win over Dixie County

By Sean Arnold

The Chiefland baseball team was twice at the precipice late in its 1A-7 district quarterfinal tilt against Dixie County Monday, needing a play to rescue its hopes of advancing to the semifinal round on Tuesday.

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For a young team that has had to call on its underclassmen so often, it was fitting that it was steered out of trouble by a sophomore.

Kelby Osteen spearheaded the fourth-seeded Indians with a dazzling performance on the mound and with his bat, as his club broke a tie in the sixth with fireworks at the plate for a 6-3 win over the No. 5-seeded Bears in Branford.

DCHS finished the season at 11-13, while Chiefland nudged itself back over .500 at 10-9. The Indians faced No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Trenton on Tuesday.

With two out and the teams knotted at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth, Osteen connected for a stand-up RBI double into the left-field corner, after sophomore catcher Elijah Smith boarded on a walk, to give CMHS back its lead at 4-3.

Junior outfielder Zach Bloom then added the insurance with a blast over the left-field fence, putting the Indian lead at 6-3 on his first high school home run.

“I knew we needed a clutch inning with some good hits,” Bloom said. “I wanted to dial in and at least put the ball in play – we needed some extra runs on the board.

“I knew I hit it hard, but I didn’t think I hit it that hard.”

Before that explosive display, Osteen helped guide his club out of potentially serious trouble in the fifth, when the Bears, then trailing 3-1, loaded the bases with no outs on hits by Carlos Williams and Travis Pleasant and a base-on-balls by Chase Johnson, a freshman who tossed all six innings for DCHS. Chiefland second baseman Payne Parnell got an assist on a force out at the plate on the ensuing at-bat, before Bears senior Kevin Harden aimed a single up the middle against a drawn-in Indian defense to cut the lead to 3-2.

Osteen, who was freezing hitters with his curveball up and then burying it to get whiffs, issued back-to-back strikeouts to escape with no more damage.

“That was big, it could have really got out of hand there,” CMHS coach Kyle Parnell said. “We were fortunate enough to pitch out of the situation there.

“I can’t say enough about Kelby and how he performed. He’s been injured, and he told us he was 100 percent. He looked like it today on the hill. He did well at the plate as well.”

During the same sequence, Smith came up with a critical block behind the dish to hold off another potential run. The sophomore catcher tossed out runners in the second and sixth innings.

“We all recognize it if the catcher doesn’t get it done, but that guy gets it done a lot, and he did it again today in some tough spots,” Parnell said. “I’m proud of him.”

Osteen, who missed time with an injury this season, worked six full innings in collecting the win.

“I just had to trust my defense out there and trust all my pitches, and just know my boys had my back,” the sophomore said. “The curveball was working.”

In the top of the sixth, courtesy runner Austin Hunt (walk), running for Justin Hodge, made it to third on a steal and a strikeout in the dirt. Osteen picked up another punch-out with two outs, but his biting curveball found its way to the backstop, allowing the batter to board on the third strike and Hunt to score to tie the game at 3-3.

Senior Casey Lawson relieved Osteen in the seventh to pick up the save. The Bears put a pair of runners on – on a swinging bunt and a hit-batter – to no avail in the final frame.

Osteen and Bloom (four RBI) teamed up in the second to first put Chiefland on the board. Osteen delivered another stand-up double, setting up an RBI single to left by Bloom to score Lonnie Hinote, who was Osteen’s courtesy runner.

“I felt great at the plate,” Osteen said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve hit, and it felt great to be able to go up there. I did better than I thought I was going to do.”

Dixie County tied the score at 1-1 in the third with help from an Indian miscue in the infield, but Chiefland took back its lead in the fourth. Bloom bunted home Jose Guerrero (infield hit, steal), who was previously moved over on a Smith sacrifice bunt.

“Zach (Bloom) got the big hit (home run) and got the bunt down earlier which was big at that time,” Parnell said of his junior outfielder.

“I’ve was picking at him, a little guy like that hits the ball that far, it’ll mess his swing up and we’ll never get him reeled back in. He thinks he’s a power hitter now,” Parnell jokingly added. “I’m certainly proud for him, and we certainly needed it at that point.”

Hinote, running for Osteen (walk), later scored on a Wyatt Hammond ground ball, crossing the plate before Dixie County completed a double play, extending the Indian advantage to 3-1.