Early on in the Plains District Tournament, South Arkansas College cruised to a pair of wins and seemed to be on their way to a third, building a 9-4 lead over Northern Oklahoma-Enid.
But the Jets rallied to tie the game in the eighth to force extra innings and scored a run in the top of the 10th to take the lead.
Suddenly the Stars found themselves three outs away from dropping into the loser’s bracket where they would’ve needed three wins to win the tournament instead of one.
Enter Brennan Jones.
A former standout at El Dorado, Jones had a solid game in the Stars' win against Hesston (Kan.), going 2-for-2 with two walks and two RBIs. Against the Jets, he was 2-for-4 and had scored two runs heading into his at-bat to start the bottom of the 10th.
Jones hit a slow roller to the right side of the infield that had the makings of being the first out of the inning, but Jones rushed down the line and won the race to first base on a bang-bang play.
One out later, Roc Hawthorne crushed a 1-2 pitch over the fence in right for his second two-run homer of the game to send SouthArk to the championship game.
And while Hawthorne’s home run will certainly be remembered, it was Jones’ hustle that set up the walk-off blast.
For SouthArk coach Cannon Lester, Jones’ effort is a little more personal considering he also coached him at El Dorado.
“Brennan’s that guy that does everything right,” Lester said. “He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever coached. I’ve coached him for six years now, and it was great to see something great happen for him. He’s had a lot of hard times in his baseball career. He had some unfortunate injuries in high school.”
Jones’ career at SouthArk got off to a slow start. As a freshman, he hit .167 in 72 at-bats, but when the Stars returned for fall workouts last year, he showed that he was going to be a factor in the spring.
However, he started the season by going 6-for-27, which left Jones hitting .222 through March 4.
“He was great for us in the fall and he didn’t start out very hot, so I sat him on the bench for about a month,” Lester said.
Jones played sporadically until the series against Arkansas-Rich Mountain, where he posted consecutive multi-hit games and had two extra-base hits to match his total for the season up to that point.
A week later, he had a multi-hit game against Carl Albert State and Jones hit his first home run on April 8 against Redlands College. His three RBIs in the game were a career-high.
Since March 23, Jones has racked up nine multi-hit games, including three straight in the Plains District Tournament.
And that .222 batting average from March is nothing but a distant memory.
Heading into the World Series, Jones is hitting .304 with two home runs and 17 RBIs. He is one of nine Stars sporting a batting average over the .300 mark.
“Right now, he’s been really good at first,” Lester said. “He had seven or eight hits that really got him going and got our team going. I think in the Hesston game, it was first and second and nobody out. They thought he was going to bunt and he had a big hit to right.”
Thanks to Jones’ hustle and Hawthorne’s blast, the Stars reached the championship game, culminating with a 6-4 triumph in a winner-take-all game.
Kade Lively, who held Western Oklahoma State to just three hits and three runs over seven-plus innings to pick up the win in the biggest game in SouthArk’s young history, was in a similar spot to Jones, and Lester credited the duo for continuing to work hard even when they were struggling.
“You’re talking about two guys that just dominated the fall,” Lester said. “I think Brennan was probably our second-best hitter in the fall and Kade was our best arm. You’re talking about two kids that just do things right. They just kept fighting, even when we stopped starting them.
“Kade was throwing an inning here or an inning there and Brennan would get one start a weekend out of four, but you would never know it by the way they went about their business, the kind of teammates that they were, so props to those guys to keep fighting.
“Their moment has started to come around here of late, and it’s good to see them get that for themselves. They deserve it. Just because you do things right, doesn’t mean you’re always going to have success, but I’m glad those guys are having success. It’s great for them because they did everything right, even when it wasn’t going good for them.”
It may not be remembered like Hawthorne’s home run or Lively’s performance, but Jones’ infield single will carry an important place whenever SouthArk’s run to the World Series is discussed.
“He hit that chopper and he’s a fast kid,” Lester said. “Luckily, the first baseman waited back on it a little bit, Brennan slid head first and it set the stage for Roc’s heroics.”