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 Benjamin Russell's Nick McGhee (9) slides into second base against Hilllcrest's Kash Ryan on Thursday.

Fighting for their playoff lives, the Benjamin Russell Wildcats set up the textbook definition of what a baseball team would want in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Brock Elliott and Cade Brooks led off with back-to-back singles and Huell Lumpkin was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the AHSAA Class 6A quarterfinals.

Heavy hitter Joe Young stepped up to the plate and knew he had a job to do. He fouled off a pair of pitches he didn’t like before he sliced one straight down the gap between third base and shortstop.

“All I thought was, ‘Thank God,’” Young said. “I was so excited. I had a little nerves. I doubted myself a little bit, but I knew all my teammates had faith in me so I’m thankful for them.”

Young’s single drove in Elliott, who — although he didn’t need to — exuberantly slid into home plate for the 3-2 walk-off victory.

“When we got the bases loaded with no outs, we were in a great situation there,” Benjamin Russell coach Richy Brooks said. “With two strikes, Joe did a good job of fighting them off and all that. One of the next two just had to get it done, but Joe came up with a big hit.”

The hit not only won the game, but it meant another game for the Wildcats. Earlier Thursday night, Hillcrest dominated Benjamin Russell, finishing it off 11-0 in five innings. That meant Game 2 was a must-win affair, and Young’s hit set up a decisive Game 3, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. today.

“My teammates did a great job to get bases loaded for me to even get the opportunity to get that at bat,” Young said. “Coming into it, I knew I needed to be a big player. Coach Brooks is always talking about timely hitting and great hitting in games, and I believe I stepped up as one of the leaders on the team and made a play to take us to the next game.”

Benjamin Russell, which didn’t hit the ball well all night, let things snowball on it in Game 1. There was a questionable call made in the fourth inning that seemed to affect the Wildcats’ mentality. Earlier in the game, BRHS made a double play against Hillcrest, grabbing a fly out that would’ve been a sacrifice and forcing a runner out at second. At the time, the umpires ruled the run did not count. To start the bottom of the fourth inning, they met about it and credited the Patriots with the run. From there, the Wildcats didn’t look like the same team.

But despite the tough loss, Benjamin Russell came back swinging in Game 2.

“We preach that it’s a series because I’ve had to learn that the hard way with teams in the past,” Brooks said. “You win the first game and act like you beat the Yankees in the World Series, but it’s three games. When we play well, we just have to hold people down. We made good defensive plays in the second game that kept them from scoring, and that’s baseball. All I know is now we have a chance.”

Brooks said he wasn’t sure who he would pitch in today’s game, but he still has regular starters Elliott and Lumpkin available as well as relievers John Hayden Johnson and Colby Riddle.

But the biggest thing the Wildcats need to do is hit the ball better in Game 3. BRHS had just eight hits all day compared to 19 for Hillcrest.

“We weren’t hitting; they dominated us with their pitchers,” Brooks said. “I hope they don’t have another one like that. It’s going to come to who hits it. ’Cause you’re going to have to score some runs, and we’re going to have to have some pitchers that will have to step up.”

Luckily for Benjamin Russell, the Wildcats will have the momentum going into today’s Game 3 and shouldn’t feel like they are fighting an uphill battle against the No. 2-ranked Class 6A team.

“I can say we came out a little nervous,” Young said. “It’s Round 3 and there was a lot of hype for this team. We were a little nervous and we were the underdogs, but I feel like we overcame all that and we got the job done (Thursday). Now we just need to bring the energy again (today).”

This is the second time during BRHS’ playoff run it has lost the first game and won Game 2 via walk-off.

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.