Not that his three seasons with the Gamecocks should be defined by it, he just wants it back.
The senior All-American and all-time OVC saves leader uncorked a wild pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th inning Friday, allowing Austin Peay’s Greg Bachman to race home with the winning run in a 7-6 marathon that ended JSU’s run in the OVC Tournament at Pringles Park.
“Bad pitch, nothing else I can say,” Hornsby said. “It was a 2-2 count. I was trying to get an outside fastball and, you know, bad pitch.
“I’d love that one back. I hope that’s not what they remember me off of.”
The loss finished the Gamecocks’ season 28-30, ending a string of nine straight 30-win seasons. It also marked the first time since 2002 — coach Jim Case’s first year with the program — they finished with a losing record. They were never above .500 at any point in the season.
Hornsby entered the game in the seventh inning with two on, one out and JSU leading 6-5. He walked the first batter he faced on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases, struck out the next, then walked in the tying run.
“I just went in there a little shaky, I guess, but once I settled down, I got after the hitter,” he said.
The next three innings were uneventful.
In the 11th, Hornsby got the first out then gave up singles to Reed Harper and Bachman. He intentionally walked Cody Hudson to load the bases — the 10th walk by JSU pitchers in the game — and the strategy seemed to work as he induced P.J. Torres to bounce into a short-to-catcher fielder’s choice.
That brought up Tyler Childress, who was 0-for-5 in the game, and five pitches into the at-bat Hornsby let loose his bad pitch to the right of catcher Stephen Bartlett.
Hornsby’s down-under pitching style lends itself to a ball in the dirt, but he had thrown only three wild pitches in his 30 previous appearances this year (50 1/3 innings). But Bachman was ready for it and sprang into action when he saw it.
“Because Hornsby is a submarine guy, I knew there was a possibility there’d be a passed ball,” he said. “I was trying to see the ball out of his hand and I was going to jump on anything that was going to get away from the catcher.
“You’ve always got to be ready for the situation. I knew in the back of my mind that it was a possibility. Even though he hadn’t thrown one, you know the chance is there, and it happened, so I as soon as I saw it, I was off to the races.”
The 4 1/3 innings matched Hornsby’s longest outing of the season, but he has gone as many as 7 1/3 in his career. Case admitted it was “probably way too early” to bring in his closer Friday, but he wanted to keep the game close in the hands of the pitcher most capable of keeping it that way.
He said it would be unfair if Hornsby’s career at JSU was remembered for one pitch that got away. Hornsby set the OVC all-time saves record (32) this season and set the Gamecocks’ single-season saves mark the year before (15).
“There’s no possible way will the last pitch be what I remember (about Hornsby),” Case said. “What I’ll remember is heart, courage, somebody who puts team before themselves — almost, at many different times in the last couple years, taking one for the team because he’s the best guy we have out there.
“If there’s someone to blame for him being there and being a little bit tired, it’s me, because I make those decisions. And I make the decision because in my mind that’s our best chance to win. If we have the ball in his hands, everybody in our dugout feels like he’s going to win it.
“Every now and then something like that (wild pitch) happens, it just does. Unfortunately it happened at the very end of the game … When you’re in a competition, there’s always a chance that things don’t go the way that you want it. Well, it didn’t end the way we wanted, but we wouldn’t have been sitting there if it wasn’t for (Hornsby).”
The only time the top-seeded Governors (35-22) led in the game was when they scored the winning run.
The Gamecocks had leads of 3-0 and 5-2 in the first three innings, and took a 6-5 lead in the sixth.
But typical of the season, they failed to cash in on chances in the late innings that could have had them playing today. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the final four innings, leaving them stranded in the eighth, 10th and 11th innings.
They put their first two runners on in the eighth and left them, and had two on with one out in the 10th and hit into an inning-ending double play.
“We had opportunities we weren’t able to cash in on and part of that is who you’re facing,” Case said. “(Govs reliever Tyler Rogers) did a really nice job. When he came into the game, honestly, I felt like we’re really going to take off because I saw him throw yesterday and he wasn’t very good. But he came out today and I thought he did throw good.”
The Gamecocks had a chance in the 11th, getting their leadoff man on and eventually to third with two outs. Ben Waldrip was intentionally walked to set up a force and Rogers — a sidewinder like Hornsby — got out of the inning when Kyle Bluestein bounced back to him. Bluestein had a two-run double and solo homer earlier in the game.
“I know he’s been known to be a wild pitcher, but every pitch he threw to me just about was a strike today,” Bluestein said. “I felt good so I went after it. I just didn’t get it how I wanted.”
The Gamecocks reached the Peay game by rallying to eliminate Eastern Kentucky 9-4 earlier in the day.
They were held to an infield single and only two base runners through the first five innings by EKU starter Matt Harris, then tied the game with three runs in the sixth and broke it open with five in the seventh.
Scott Underwood hit a two-run double and Waldrip had a game-tying sacrifice fly in the sixth. Kyle Stone singled home the go-ahead run in the seventh, but Waldrip delivered the big blow — a bases-loaded three-run double that came within inches of being a grand slam. Stone singled home another run in the eighth.
Hunter Rivers threw 123 pitches in eight innings (82 for strikes) to earn the win.
“A lot of times during the season it’s getting us started,” Bluestein said. “Once we get started, once we start pushing runs across, they come in bunches. We don’t have a problem once we get going, but sometimes that key hit to score that first run is what we have a problem with.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.