Then he lived every prep athlete’s nightmare, trying to shake off the winning hit he gave up in his first pitching appearance of the season in Game 2.
It was that kind of night between Oxford and Grissom. The Yellow Jackets came from behind twice to win the first game 9-8, only to see Grissom score a pair of two-out runs to force extra innings, then win the second game 5-4 on Daniel Cash’s run-scoring single in the eighth inning.
Oxford (18-16) and Grissom (25-23) play the decisive third game today at 1 p.m. on Bud McCarty Field, with the winner to play Hewitt-Trussville in the Class 6A state quarterfinals.
“I think we’ll come back with a fresh start,” Simpson said. “We know that we just need one more game to win it, and we’re confident that we’ll get it done.”
No player lived the ups and downs of the night more than Simpson.
Already on a power tear, having hit six home runs over Oxford’s previous two series, he blasted a second-inning grand slam after Grissom took a 3-0 lead in Friday’s first game.
Then came Simpson’s game-ending solo shot to lead off the bottom of the seven, after Oxford tied the game when Colton Turner walked with bases loaded in the fifth inning.
Simpson’s decisive home run came on a 2-2 pitch, after he fouled off three straight pitches from Grissom reliever Michael McCreless.
“It was make-or-break time,” Simpson said. “He started me off, throwing me some tough pitches. I got down (in the count) early and had to fight my way back and battle off a few pitches.
“I kept battling until he left one out over the plate that I could do something with, and I just hit it the other way.”
The right-handed-hitting Mississippi State signee, who got a late start on his season because of a football knee injury, has nine home runs on the season — eight came over the past three weekends.
“He’s as dangerous as I’ve seen,” Grissom coach Adam Moseley said. “He knows how to hit here, where it’s a short field. If you throw where he can just flick it over the fence, he’s going to, but the problem is, he can also hit it 450 feet, too.
“He’s just a very, very good hitter. He deserves to go to Mississippi State and play both (football and baseball), and they’d be crazy not to let him play both.”
Then came Game 2, and the pitching appearance Simpson wound up having to make.
Oxford held a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning, and Dylan Johnson appeared to have things under control. The winner in relief in Game 1, he struck out designated hitter Wen Burnette and induced a popout from pinch-hitter Tyler Vaughn.
But McCreless singled, and Ben Splawn doubled. Oxford issued an intentional walk to Thomas Hill to load the bases, and Carter Williams singled to deep right-center field after falling behind 0-2 in the count.
Williams wound up getting the third out, attempting to stretch the hit into a double, but two runs scored to tie the game.
Oxford got one base runner in the eighth, when Turner walked, but couldn’t advance him.
Dax Winningham came on to relieve Johnson to start the Grissom eighth and gave up a single to Garrett Rogers and walk to pinch hitter Bryan Plott. Pitching coach Cale Wright came to the mound and summoned Simpson.
It was Simpson’s first mound appearance this season. Oxford coach Wes Brooks had planned for Simpson to pitch this season, but Simpson experienced tenderness in his recovered left knee while working bullpens in practice.
Now, he would have to face Cash with two runners on and no outs and the game on the line.
“I was wanting to go with him, if we got a lead (in the top of the eighth),” Brooks said. “I was hoping to get a lead, and we could put him out there to start the inning.
“Since we didn’t get the lead — and then we gave up a hit and a walk — and I felt like we needed a strikeout right there.”
Cash wound up hitting a 3-2 pitch for the game-winning hit, experiencing a high similar to what Simpson experienced in the first game.
“I knew we needed to score a run to go ahead,” Cash said. “We had an emotional game, but I wanted to be in the spot, and I was just thinking, how deep can it get?
“I just kind of flicked my hands out, and it went out into right field.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.