As the sun set on a chilly afternoon at Tehachapi High's baseball field Tuesday, a downtrodden Warriors team got just what it needed.
That would be their coach, Chris Olofson, walking onto the field with a cane to greet them, one week after he was hit in the head with a line-drive foul ball and a few minutes after Tehachapi's emotional postseason run ended with a 13-7 loss to Visalia-Golden West in the Central Section Division III semifinals.
Olofson spent five nights at Kern Medical Center, a couple of them in critical condition, after the liner fractured his skull and left him with bleeding on the brain. And so his sudden appearance — he had watched the game from beyond the center-field fence, out of sight — was just what was needed for Tehachapi's players, who all shared hugs and handshakes with their recovering head coach.
The Warriors (15-12) had just lost a see-saw game in which they scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take a 7-5 lead before surrendering eight runs to the Trailblazers (19-13) in the seventh.
"Roller coaster is pretty good description," said Tehachapi senior Reid Feeley. "There were good moments and bad moments all game long, and it just ended on a bad moment."
Golden West jumped on Feeley, the starting pitcher, with three runs in the first inning, and the Blazers extended the lead to 5-1 on Wyatt Tiley's two-run double in the fourth. But Tehachapi clawed back and finally went into the lead on Feeley's two-run single in the sixth inning. Nathan Hedberg followed with an RBI single.
Later, Tehachapi assistant coach Chase Dominguez bemoaned the fact that the Warriors didn't have an even bigger lead — they stranded a runner on third base in each of the first five innings and didn't score in the second inning after loading the bases with no outs.
"I knew we would battle every inning, but we left a lot of guys out there," Dominguez said. "We had them on the ropes every inning, but when you don't put teams away, things happen."
Trailing 7-5, Golden West opened the seventh with four consecutive singles. Tiley, who also doubled later in the inning and finished 4 for 5, led off with a single.
The second single, from Blain Cox, looked like it could have been a double-play grounder before it ricocheted off second base and into center field. The fourth, from Kacey Seeger, scored two runs and tied the game at 7.
The next batter, Chase Champlin, launched a three-run home run to center field for a 10-7 lead.
"When Wyatt got that hit, we felt a flicker of hope," said Golden West assistant coach Bob Verissimo, who filled in for head coach Rick Lantrip because Lantrip's daughter was graduating. "Then that ball hit second base and it felt like something special could happen. It was just contagious."
Golden West will play Dinuba for the D-III title at 2 p.m. Saturday in Visalia.
For Tehachapi, Michael Cole was 3 for 5, Davin Domingo was 2 for 4, and Hedberg and Eric Johnson also had two hits each.
But in the end, it was a disappointing loss for the Warriors — and for their coach watching from afar.
Olofson declined a formal interview because his injury still makes it difficult for him to speak, but he expressed frustration over the loss and pride that his team had won its first Southeast Yosemite League title (and first league championship of any kind in seven years) and that they had continued to play hard after his injury.
"I'm really proud of our team," Feeley said. "We didn't get along early in the year, so it was great to make this run together."