By Maurice Patton
COLUMBIA — It was his first day as a high school catcher, his second game, his 13th inning.
And for Zion Christian sophomore Jaron Keyser, everything was going well – until it wasn’t.
With the Eagles nursing a two-run lead in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader against visiting Glencliff, Keyser and senior first baseman Kade Montgomery were pursuing a foul popup off the bat of Connor Gilkey.
As the teammates closed in on the ball, Keyser dove and was struck in the face by Montgomery’s right knee. Montgomery flipped, went airborne and somehow completed the catch.
Keyser landed, face down, motionless.
Colts first-base coach Steve Cherrico reached Keyser first, then immediately motioned for the Zion coaching staff to come to his aid.
Both staffs tended to Keyser, before he was eventually helped to his feet and off the field. He sustained a gash below his lower lip, caused by his teeth on impact, and was transported to Maury Regional Medical Center for evaluation. From there, he was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center and was expected to undergo surgery to repair fractures to his eye sockets and jaw.
“You’ve got two competitors, trying to make a play,” second-year Zion Christian coach Jon McDonald said after his team held on for a 7-5, six-inning victory to sweep the twinbill. “Kade hyperextended his knee. I don’t know how he held onto the ball.
“Jaron’s teeth went through his lip. He’s got some broken facial bones. I think the guys rallied and finished the game for him. It’s crazy how games go.”
Primarily a pitcher/shortstop, Keyser had volunteered to go behind the plate Friday to give Chris Clauss a break. In the two games – Zion won the opener 10-5 – he threw out three would-be basestealers along with a back-pick at second base and recorded an out on a play at the plate.
“He played lights-out,” McDonald said.
Like Keyser, the Eagles (5-5) had their ups and downs throughout the day. After breaking open the early contest with a six-run fourth inning and taking an eight-run cushion into the final frame, Glencliff put up three runs in its final at-bat.
The second contest, scheduled for five innings, followed a similar script. As the ‘visiting’ team, Zion scored two runs in the top of the first and two in the second, with the Colts (2-6) getting single runs in each frame. Clauss’ RBI double in the fourth made it a 5-2 game, but Glencliff scored three in the bottom to force a deadlock – and, eventually, extra innings – before Dillan Runions and Montgomery each drove in sixth-inning runs.
“I told them between games the errors we made at the end lead to extra pitches,” McDonald said. “This time of year, with six games in three days, you’re trying to keep kids under their pitch counts. We made errors, mistakes that we should have been out of innings.”
Glencliff coach Brad Weeks had a similar assessment of his team.
“We hit the ball hard, but right at them,” said Weeks, whose Metro Nashville squad is comprised primarily of students from Valor Collegiate, with which Glencliff has a co-op agreement through the TSSAA. “We had another inning where we blew up. We just hope, with the mental mistakes, we’ll turn the corner.”
For Zion, that corner got a bit farther away with Friday’s turn of events.
“We had eight players last year. We’ve got 19 this year,” McDonald said. “It’s good that we’re growing the program and getting guys (to come) out, for times like this.
“Jaron was going to pitch (Saturday). I guess it’s back to the drawing board now.”
Zion Chr. 10, Glencliff 5
Glc 000 200 3 – 5 7 6
ZCA 001 621 x – 10 7 3
Zac McCreary, Arthur Myers (5) and Justus Cherrico. Kade Montgomery, Wyatt Heins (6) and Jaron Keyser. W: Montgomery. L: McCreary.
Zion Chr. 7, Glencliff 5 (6 inn.)
ZCA 220 102 – 7 8 1
Glc 110 300 – 5 8 3
Dylan Samuel, Luke Perko (2) and Jaron Keyser, Chris Clauss (6). Austin Luckett, Bennett Shaver (4), Justus Cherrico (6) and Justus Cherrico, Bennett Shaver (6). W: Perko. L: Shaver.
Photos by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports