Capitalizing on mistakes and playing good defense behind a 12-strikeout performance on the hill, the Big Sandy Wildcats defeated Thorndale 3-2 Thursday at Tomball’s Premier Academy.
“We have talked about it, but it is better to be lucky than good,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “We had luck again tonight. Austin (Hendrix) pitched a great game and they had great approaches at the plate. I don’t know how many strikeouts we had, but not as many as the game before. They played good and we are going to have to come ready to play tomorrow. It is supposed to be like this in the third round. Nobody is going to be bad.”
A walk and dropped third strike had two runners in scoring position for the Bulldogs in the opening frame, but Hendrix found his way out of the inning, collecting three strikeouts.
Layton VonBerg led the offense off in the bottom half with a four-pitch free pass. With one out, an infield single from Hendrix put two on. Cherry moved a runner to third with a pop up and Ben Griffin hit a soft grounder that remained just inside the chalk to load the bases with two out. A strikeout from Thorndale’s Michael Turman ended the threat without a run.
T.J. Lilley started the next inning reaching by error. Kyle Lenox moved him to second with a sac bunt. With two out, VonBerg popped a fly ball to right field that was misjudged, allowing Lilley to score for a 1-0 lead.
“I keep going up there with an approach and looking fastball,” VonBerg said of his ability to get on base. “It keeps getting thrown to me and I love it, so I just pepper it and put it in play.”
A walk put Kyle Lenox on in the fourth, but he was soon erased on a fielder’s choice. The new runner, Seth Maze, stole second and was sent to third on an error off the bat of VonBerg. Maze then scored the game’s second run on a wild pitch.
A infield single by Cherry put him on to lead off the fifth. Running with a full count, Griffin grounded to third and was thrown out at first. However, Cherry rounded second and dove into third in time. At third, Cherry was caught in a rundown after Bulldog catcher Mason Fisher threw down the line. The throw from third to home was high and bounced to the backstop. After five innings, Big Sandy held a 3-0 advantage.
“Honestly, I was wanting the steal sign the whole game and I finally got it my last at-bat,” Cherry said. “I was rounding second that last at-bat when Ben hit the ball — I guess to third, I don’t know where it went — and it looked like coach was wheeling it for me (sign to advance bases), so I just took off. When I got on third, I was watching the coach and I thought he gave the squeeze sign to the batter. I wasn’t so sure, it looked like it. I thought I would take off, trying just in case. I saw him square, so I thought squeeze. It didn’t land and I was terrified. They overthrew and I’ll take that.”
Ashton Albert started the Thorndale offense in the bottom half of the fifth with a double to right-center field. An infield single from Tyler Richter had runners on the corners. Fisher singled, scoring Albert and was followed by a Turman bunt that prompted a throwing error. Another run scored, making it a one-run game at 3-2.
Logan Fisher then grounded to VonBerg at shortstop and the senior made the throw to home to protect the lead. Catcher Ryan Brown caught the toss on the far side of the plate and lunged to make a quick tag of a sliding ankle. With two away, Hendrix got the final out with a swing and miss.
“They were a lot better, Hendrix said. “They could actually touch my fastball. They were kind of late on it, but they caught up to it after about two or three innings. I didn’t have as many strikeouts tonight, but I would rather have no strikeouts in a win than a lot and a loss. When they got the first run, luckily we had the insurance runs. I just had confidence in myself with our defense behind me.”
That left the final inning.
Hendrix fielded the first out on a tapper that just made the grass. Guzman walked, bringing up Trey Ortiz. Again Hendrix needed to become a fielder. He gloved the bouncer and came up throwing to shortstop VonBerg, who hadn’t yet reached second to cover.
“He led me to it; it was a good play,” VonBerg said of the Hendrix throw to him.
The shortstop tapped the bag at second and relayed to first to complete a game-ending double play.
The Wildcats will look to win one of two games Friday to move on to the Regional Semifinals.