By Aaron Mansfield
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — With his eye-black smeared, dirt-caked jersey untucked, and long brown hair dripping from a Gatorade bath, senior Tyler Gibson smiled triumphantly.
Gibson could not remember – or imagine – a better feeling in his athletic career. He was the hero in his last-ever baseball game.
With the Kenmore East Bulldogs (3-11) tied 5-5 with Kenmore West (6-8) in the bottom of the seventh inning, bases loaded, Gibson hammered a single up the middle to win the game 6-5.
“It was scary, but that’s what we live for, things like this,” Gibson said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Gibson didn’t start the game, but he sure finished it. The designated hitter went 2 for 2, scored a run and had three RBI – doubling his season total.
Ken East head coach Les Simon watched his team limp through an arduous season, but he was exuberant after the Bulldogs concluded their 2013 campaign with Thursday’s nerve-wracking win at Sheridan Park.
“We haven’t had a lot to smile about all year, but we’re smiling from ear to ear tonight,” Simon said. “I’m so proud of our guys because nothing seems to go right and they continue to go up and they battle.”
East was down the entire game – first 3-0, then 5-3 – and the final run gave the squad its first lead. The rally began in the bottom of the sixth inning with West leading 5-3. After Simon delivered a motivational speech that got his team buzzing, right fielder John Mirabella singled Gibson home to make it 5-4, and Robbie McNamara hit into a fielder’s choice to score Connor McMahon and knot the game.
“That’s what you do: You keep cheering,” Simon said. “You keep encouraging. You keep coaching, and you hope.”
East starter Jeff White went all seven innings, allowing five runs (four earned) and six hits, and he shut down the Blue Devils in the top of the seventh – giving his squad a chance to close a bleak season with an impressive come-from-behind win.
It was a hustle play that started the final rally. East catcher Preston Smith beat out an infield single by diving into first base. Two batters later, Gibson brought Smith home to win the ballgame.
“We had some adversity, down 5-3, and we came back,” Simon said. “I saw no negatives. Tyler, a senior, wasn’t starting … the fact that Tyler didn’t start and stayed ready is a life lesson. I could not be more proud of all 15 of these guys. They have had so much go against them game after game and they stayed with it; they rose up; they beat their greatest rival. I could not be happier for them.” West won the first matchup between the two teams 3-2 on April 18.
East has faced daunting challenges all year, and when it faced its last one of the season, it was an unlikely hero who delivered. “Tyler’s a good hitter,” Simon said. “He’s a great kid and he’s a character guy. We ask for seniors to step up; he certainly stepped up.”