"Let's rally!" was Paul Laurence Dunbar's cry even before Monday's home game began.
Then the 14th-ranked Bulldogs went out and rallied for a 3-1 victory over No. 2 Lexington Catholic.
The game was Dunbar's first since senior Travis Gaines suffered a serious neck injury during the Bulldogs' spring-break trip to the Florida Beach Bash tournament.
Gaines, 18, an outfielder and first baseman, was hurt his while diving into the surf of the Gulf of Mexico last week, apparently hitting a sandbar.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
During warmups at Hanson Field, Dunbar players all wore T-shirts with Gaines' name and uniform number (19) on the back.
T-shirts emblazoned with Gaines' name and number, the Bulldogs logo and "Let's Rally!" were on sale as a show of support and as a fundraiser for medical expenses.
"They're a resilient group as far as when it comes to baseball," Coach Larry Poynter said of his Bulldogs (10-2). "Even in life, with all the circumstances that have hit us, to even respond the way they have in such a short time says a lot about these kids. They're tough kids. ... They have found it somewhere. And knowing that Travis is still in Pensacola, like I tell these kids every day and they truly believe it, we play with him in our heart. They did that tonight, and good things happened."
Lexington Catholic (7-4) scratched out a second-inning run against Dunbar right-hander Aaron Ochsenbein.
Connor O'Neil singled through the right side and took second on Ben Coates' bloop single to right. After an errant pickoff throw advanced the runners to second and third, O'Neil scored on Griffin Neuer's infield single.
Ochsenbein escaped further damage, though, then took complete control.
At one point, he mowed down 11 Knights in a row.
"I was just getting in a groove out there, throwing one strike after another. ... I had all my teammates behind me," said Ochsenbein, who struck out 11 and scattered six hits over 62⁄3 innings. "I was just rolling."
Lexington Catholic righty Tom Banahan held Dunbar to one hit while striking out nine over the first four innings.
"I knew they were going to get a run," Ochsenbein said. "I just had to keep throwing up zeroes for them."
The Bulldogs broke through in the fifth.
A walk, bunt single and another walk filled the bases with no outs, knocking out Banahan.
Corey Wells came on to get a strikeout, but issued an RBI walk to Grant Herald. Wells got the next two to keep the game tied.
Joey Avioli led off Dunbar's sixth with a double.
Jack Cress moved Avioli over with a groundout.
Nicky Avioli drew an intentional walk, then stole second.
Wes Walker followed with an RBI single to left.
Another run scored on a delayed double steal that came off of a muffed pickoff try.
"Pitcher's duels, it's always the team that makes the best pitches and the team that gets the big hit," Lexington Catholic Coach Taylor Brooks said. "And they got the big hit and they made some pitches against us. We made some mental mistakes that hurt us in the long run. But at the end of the day it's a game to grow on and a game to learn from."
Brooks said he and the Knights empathized with Dunbar.
"Obviously it's an emotionally filled game for them," Brooks said. "I don't know how you deal with that. It's a situation that no coach wants to go into. ... We commend them 100 percent."
Poynter commended his team, too, while keeping Gaines in his thoughts:
"This is a very tight-knit group of kids. ... Somewhere inside of us, he's playing right with us today."
Dunbar 3, Lexington Catholic 1
Lexington Catholic 010 000 0—1 6 0
Dunbar 000 012 x—3 4 2
Banahan, Wells (5) and Jackson; Ochsenbein, Puracchio (7) and Walker. W—Ochsenbein; L—Banahan.