Ten down, two to go.
That's where Corsicana's Tigers are today after facing the toughest week of the season -- a nightmare two-game stretch against Midlothian and Joshua with a musical chairs lineup that somehow survived to gain a split and hang on to first place with an emotional 9-4 win over Joshua on Friday.
"It was a heck of a week. That was a huge win (Friday) in a tough district, especially with the adversity we had to go through this week," Autrey said. "I was really proud of the way we responded. I couldn't be prouder of them because of what we went through this week.
"To me, responding is the biggest thing you can do," he said. "It's what you do when you get knocked down. How are you going to react? Are you going to get up?
"After the game on Friday I told them I couldn't be prouder of them for the way they faced the adversity we had all week, and I told them that's what you have to do in life. I'm just so proud of all of them."
Autrey has used a rubiks cube mentality to get through the two short-handed games, and his Tigers could have easily won both. They lost 5-3 in Midlothian, where there was some questionable officiating when the Tigers was called for a phantom catcher's interference call that erased a strikeout and helped open up a three-run inning, and a Tiger player was ejected for apparently no reason -- a call that infuriated Autrey.
The game ended with a diving catch in left that (if it had been ruled a trapped ball) the Tigers would have brought in two runs and tied the score in the seventh. But nothing went right for the Tigers, who finished the game without their coach. Autrey had to leave the game because he was ill.
He was fine Friday when he had to scramble to make five lineup changes in a matter of minutes after being informed just before the game that he would be without three starters instead of two.
They played short-handed all week, but none of that mattered when Hunter Autrey hit "The shot heard round 14-5A" when he blasted a three-run homer in the first inning against Joshua to lift the Tigers to a 3-1 lead and ignite a 9-4 victory.
Joshua used five pitchers, but none of them wanted to pitch to Hunter, who was intentionally walked twice after hitting his bomb to 45th Street. Even without Hunter's big bat, the Tigers ripped Joshua as one player after another came through for Corsicana.
Zane Petty gave the Tigers another solid start, going four innings and allowing four hits and three runs (but no earned runs), and Tiger ace Kolby Kinkade came in to nail down an impressive three-inning save.
Solomon James singled in the first and Austin Pryor, who moved from third to short in the recent shakeup to the lineup, has been on base six times in the last two games. He walked in the first and scored along with James on Hunter Autrey's homer. Adrian Baston, who has been starting in center,, and Connor Means, who has moved from center to right lately, both stepped up this week.
It was like they were handing out Super Hero capes in the dugout as some of the biggest at-bats of the day came from the non-starter Tigers, who simply stepped up and seized the moment.
Just look at the Tigers' five-run fourth inning when Rudy Beck, a pitcher who rarely bats, came through at the plate and on the bases, Tyler Slaughter, who came through with a big pinch-hit performance, Jace Richardson, who worked a walk and scored, and Payton Aycock, who delivered an RBI single, all soared under the pressure.
And the big bat in the fifth inning lineup? That was second baseman Bradley Gruver, the No. 9 hitter who came through with a two-out single to beat Cleburne 4-2 earlier. Gruver came through twice against Joshua, driving in a run in the third with a single and delivering a huge two-run single in the fifth to give the Tigers a 9-3 lead.
The biggest super hero (with or without a cape) was Ryan Answorth, who was a last minute starter. Answorth, a talented sophomore, stepped up and had a remarkable game behind the plate, saving his team and earning admiration from his coach.
"I've never given a game ball to anyone in my coaching career," said Autrey, who is in his 16th season as a head baseball coach. "But I'm giving a game ball to Ryan because of what he did for us today. He was our MVP."
Autrey's kids are still leading the District 14-5A race with two games left, beginning with the annual showdown in Ennis on Tuesday against the Lions, who are right behind Corsicana in the standings. The Tigers end the regular season on April 27 at home against Red Oak, which beat the Tigers 3-1 on March 26.
But it's a tightrope trek from here to the playoffs in the most competitive 5A district in Texas. The Tigers lead with a 7-3 record, Midlothian is now one game back at 6-4, followed by Ennis (5-3) and Joshua and Cleburne are both at 5-4. Then there's Red Oak, which is 4-5 after winning four of its last five games.
That means six of the seven teams in 14-5A have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs from a district that produced three of the four teams left in the region in 2019 when the Tigers beat Midlothian to win the Region II title and advance to the state semifinals.