BY BRIAN BESCH
Texas Slam hosted two exhibitions Monday pitting players from the north and south regions of East Texas. The 2015 East Texas All-Star Sports Festival featured several stars from Polk County schools and each was a competitive one-run game.
The first contest, dubbed the Future All-Stars, spotlighted freshman and sophomore talent in the area.
Livingston participants shined in the early innings. Lion Corbin Patterson started on the mound, pitching to three batters, getting two grounders and a pop fly.
Shortstop and Livingston teammate Kurt Wilson led off for the South team and smashed a mammoth home run over the 365 sign on the 16-foot centerfield wall for a 1-0 lead.
The North was quick to respond, as Whitehouse's Tanner Roche collected an infield single and advanced to third base off a grounder to first.
Noah Acker of Rusk was hit by a pitch and soon advanced on a bobble by the catcher to bring up Kyle Lovelace. Lovelace, a sophomore catcher from Lufkin Hudson, hit a Texas Leaguer that drove in both runners and put the North on top, 2-1.
Kelbey Weyler from Warren tripled for the South and would later score on a wild pitch to even the game at two.
In the third, Onalaska's Caleb Farris came on in relief for the North and was impressive, striking out the side. In the fourth, however, the sophomore pitcher ran into problems.
The fourth inning began with an error in centerfield. Two walks and a wild pitch later, Farris had the bases loaded with no one out.
Wilson stepped to the plate and the Lion delivered a two-RBI single. Evadale's Tyler Torres followed that with a two-RBI triple, which was made possible after a missed diving attempt in left field.
Bryce Holmes of Woodville singled in Torres to complete the scoring. Farris found a way to work out of trouble with a fielder's choice from Big Sandy's Austin Hendrix and inducing a double play against Weyler.
The North would answer quickly in the top of the fifth, starting with Bryce Cundleff from Jacksonville walking and advancing on a wild pitch.
Buffalo's Jacob Fishbeck drove him in with an RBI-single. Whitehouse's Ryan Walls, who pitched a perfect fifth and sixth inning, also singled. Both he and Fishbeck moved up 180 feet when an errant throw from behind the plate went into right field. Fishbeck scored on the play, while Walls advanced to third.
Two batters later, Jacob Johnson of Bullard smashed a two-run home run to right field, bringing the score to 7-6. The score would remain, giving the South a slim victory.
"They were good ballgames," Texas Slam General Manager and coach of both winning teams Kurt Kristynik said. "We had several of the kids from smaller schools that played really well and I was happy to see that. The kids played good defense the whole game — which is something that when the effort is there, you should play good defense. It was also good to see some balls fly out of here, this place has been holding them in."
Game 2 featured the juniors and seniors and was decided in the game's final at bat.
When a grounder to first could not be handled, South leadoff hitter Javonte Mask of Crockett reached base and stole second to begin the bottom of the first.
A single from Jasper's John McMillon drove Mask in. Audy Clary of Lufkin Hudson drew a walk and Caleb Hanks, also from Hudson, smashed a grounder to shortstop. When the shortstop could not make a play on the grounder, McMillon scored, giving the south an early 2-0 lead.
The North would match the runs in the next opportunity, beginning with a Clay McGill single. The Buffalo junior scored when Grey Briggs of Henderson tripled. A sacrifice fly from Navasota's Bryce Pauler Jr. evened the score at two.
In the third, the North again went on top when Brady Daughdrill walked and advanced two bases on a bad toss from the backstop. Landry Mayo of Whitehouse reached by error and Logan Freeman singled to knock in Daughdrill.
The bottom half of the inning saw the South begin a rally with two outs. Colmesneil's Sam Matterson reached by error, stole a base, and would be driven in by senior Tyler Abney of Lufkin to tie the game 3-3.
Mayo again reached base with a two-out infield single in the fifth. Logan Freeman, a junior from Buffalo, drove him in on a single to give the North an advantage of 4-3.
That lead would not last long either. In the next at bat, McMillon and Clary both walked. McMillon was caught attempting to steal third just before Caleb Hanks delivered a double, putting two runners in scoring position.
Colby Davenport of Crockett drove in both with a single as the South reclaimed a lead of 5-4.
Chris Boothe of Livingston entered the game in the sixth inning, getting a grounder and giving up a walk in the first two batters. The junior tossed a couple of impressive breaking balls to strike out the three and four-hole hitters of the North lineup, closing his brief performance.
With two outs in the seventh and down to their last out with no one on base, the North's Jared Sprinkle of Central High School walked and Pauler Jr. doubled. An intentional walk to Central's Dylan McCarver loaded the bases for Daughdrill.
The Kilgore senior drew a walk to bring Sprinkle across the plate and tie the game, forcing a bottom half of the inning.
In that half, Alex Aguilar walked and Diboll senior Gunner Horton slapped a single. The base hit gave his high school teammate enough time to round the bases for the South, as Aguilar slid across home to score the game's winning run in a 6-5 victory. Texas Slam is hoping to make the event an annual occurrence, perhaps bringing in a softball game next year.
"This was something that was brought to us six months ago," Kristynik said. "We jumped on it because we already knew a bunch of the kids that were going to be nominated to play in it. There is one in Houston every year and another one in Dallas, so there is really no reason we can't have this at our place every year."