RIVERVIEW — Against most reasonable odds, Hillsborough overcame a three-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh against Plant’s hard-throwing sophomore Jake Woodford.
And coming to the plate with a chance to complete the improbable comeback was Hillsborough catcher Jesus Vega, who had gone hitless in three previous appearances.
One of Vega’s coaches approached him before he left the dugout, hoping to offer some words of encouragement.
Vega cut off his coach; he didn’t need them.
“I told him, ‘Coach, don’t say a word,’ ” Vega said. “I was thinking that this wasn’t going into extra innings.”
Vega was true to his word Monday, coming up with a walkoff RBI single to lift the Terriers to a thrilling 5-4 victory over Plant in the Saladino Baseball Tournament.
If the Terriers (8-3) defeat Lennard today, they are assured to advance to the quarterfinal round.
Their prospects didn’t look nearly so good heading into the seventh against Plant (7-4), which still had the 6-foot-4 Woodford on the mound after allowing only one run and three hits in the previous six innings.
At least one scout timed Woodford’s fastball at 94 mph early in the game. And the sophomore righty hadn’t shown much sign of fatigue down the stretch, striking out seven of Hillsborough’s last 12 batters.
“He kept throwing that fastball by us,” Hillsborough coach Kenny White said. “He’s the hardest-(throwing) guy we’ve seen all year. It took some time to adjust and get used to it.”
Roughly six innings.
Holding a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Woodford opened by walking Hillsborough pitcher Chris Figueredo and giving up a single to Rodnie Bernard and a bunt to Sam Burnett.
Diamond Johnson, the Terriers’ centerfielder and fastest player, then drove in Figueredo on fielder’s choice and moved to second on a stolen base.
Steven Lugo followed by driving in the tying runs, helped by a Panthers fielding error.
That brought up Vega, who had struck out swinging in his past two at-bats against Woodford. But the 6-foot, 210-pound junior had little doubt he would come up big when his team needed him.
“I forgot all about 0-for-3,” he said. “I’m thinking I’m 1-for-1 now.”
Figueredo earned the win, scattering six hits and four runs over seven innings. He also had three strikeouts and four walks.