E.A. Sports Today

Bittersweet finish

Kilgore wraps up a ‘tough year’ with an eventful Senior Day with the Saks baseball team; throws out first pitch, bats three times in season-ending win

Saks senior Andrew Kilgore seeks some pointers from starting pitcher Brody Johnson before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Monday. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

One of the first things they teach you in Writer’s Bowl is come up with a story fast and write what you know. Andrew Kilgore has no problem filling those requirements.

His is the story of resilience and inspiration, that of a high school athlete who has overcome near-tragic adversity and persevered to ensure his senior year would be all it could be on and off the field.

Kilgore put the wraps on his high school sports career Monday and didn’t just participate. He played.

One day shy of the one-year anniversary of the horrific car crash that changed his life, Kilgore threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Saks’ Baseball Senior Day — from the mound, all the time remembering those ceremonial pitches he’d seen on TV go horribly wrong — and batted three times as the Wildcats won their final game of the season 9-6 over playoff-bound Pleasant Valley.

“It was bittersweet,” Kilgore said. “It’s the last important game, the last time being a part of something as a team.

“It’s been a tough year. I faced a lot of adversity, but I grew a lot as a person. I don’t think the year could’ve been any worse and I don’t think it could’ve been any better.”

Kilgore has been a fixture on the Saks sports teams and he was an inspiration for them all this season. He played football for four years, baseball for five and wrestled for six. But that all changed in an instant last April 18 when his car left the road while he drove to watch the Saks softball team play at Ohatchee.

Saks coach Wes Ginn remembers the day vividly. His family had just sat down to dinner at a local restaurant and placed their drink order when the phone rang with the news of the accident. He has since joined the legions who have marveled at the way Kilgore has remained positive and productive through all the surgeries and uncertainties.

“Andrew is a hard working kid; he’s relentless,” Ginn said. “He will do whatever it takes to be successful, not just on the playing field, but in life. If anybody could have come back from something like that, he’d be the one. He’s a fighter. He’s going to do good at whatever he sets his mind to. He’s not going to settle for anything less than whatever he thinks he can achieve. He goes after it.”

There was a time Ginn thought Kilgore might have a chance to get back and play this year, but his left foot has been slow to heal properly. The coach is convinced Kilgore could have made a difference for a team that was greatly improved over the previous season but just barely missed the playoffs.

He would’ve solidified the top of the Wildcats’ lineup, played somewhere in the outfield and even helped on the mound as a left-handed pitcher who would’ve given them some innings against the pitch-count rule.

Kilgore batted three times Monday – twice in the first inning – walking twice and grounding out before coming out for a pinch-hitter in the fifth.

He went to the plate in his final game “swinging hard.” He fouled off the first two pitches he saw from Pleasant Valley starter Brody Phillips, then, with some pre-arranged help from the Raiders, he coaxed a walk out of an eight-pitch at-bat.

When he came out for a courtesy runner Raiders first baseman Nick Charping and second baseman Nick Howard both approached him to offer high-fives. He got a similar greeting from Raiders third baseman Caden Turner on the other side of the diamond as he crossed over towards the dugout.

The next two times up the Raiders couldn’t afford to be so kind. Kilgore batted later in the first with runners at first and second and grounded to Howard for the final out. His third time up the Wildcats had a runner on second and a 7-1 lead and he walked again.

“The first one they helped me out; I didn’t want that, but they helped me,” he said. “That was nice of them, hats off to them for that. But the second one there were runners on and I told coach I didn’t want to feel like we cheated the system or anything so I told them to pitch it live. The third one, the same thing.”

Ginn surprised Kilgore earlier this season by giving him a couple at bats against Anniston. He drew a walk and twice grounded out in those games.

The first time he grounded out against the Bulldogs he “forgot” he couldn’t run and crumbled to the ground after a couple steps out of the batters box. He remembered that Monday and kept his feet as he slowly moved up the baseline after grounding to Howard.

Andrew Kilgore follows through on a swing during his first at-bat Monday against Pleasant Valley.

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