Needing extra innings to advance into the Regional Semifinal round Friday, Big Sandy won a battle of 10 frames, needing defense and pitching to outlast the Thorndale Bulldogs 5-4 in Tomball.
The Wildcats received strong outings from pitchers Ethan Cherry and Ben Griffin to complete the sweep. Thorndale’s Logan Fisher was tough in defeat, throwing all 10 innings for the Bulldogs.
Scoring threats were extinguished in the seventh and ninth innings to secure the win.
In the tenth inning, Austin Hendrix led off with a single and stole second on an 0-2 count. Cherry struckout, but the ball was dropped and Hendrix moved up to third on the throw down to first. T.J. Lilley smashed a hit past shortstop to drive in the go-ahead run at 5-4.
“I knew the infield was going to be up, and when the infield is up, your odds of getting a hit is a whole lot more,” Lilley said. “I was looking for a fastball and I got it on the first pitch. I capitalized on it and it was definitely the biggest hit of my life. There is nothing better.”
Ben Griffin, who took the mound in the eighth inning, needed three outs. Just four days before, the senior was hospitalized with what was originally thought to be appendicitis.
“I had some sort of virus and just couldn’t play for two days,” Griffin said. “I was nervous. I could have gone longer, but I was nervous. I just wanted to throw strikes.”
The first out was a bouncer to third. The second on three strikes. The final batter was Michael Turman, who had given the Wildcats problems while pitching the day before and by driving in a run earlier in the contest. On a 1-2 count, Turman hit a fly ball to left field that made the warning track, but was caught by Cody Adams, ending the game.
“We misplayed a few balls and Ethan just kept throwing and pounding the zone,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “I don’t know how many times we bailed ourselves out with defense. We had a big inning early and then kind of fluttered off. We had a passed ball where we got lucky. Austin steals a bag and we got strike three in the dirt to get him over to third. T.J. came up with the biggest hit of his life. Ben didn’t get to play last series for us, but he came in and was just absolutely lights out for us on the mound. I am so proud of everybody. We get to play another week.”
A throw from second pulled the first baseman from the bag in the second inning on a Ryan Brown bouncer. He then stole second and was driven in when Seth Maze tripled off the right field wall. Justin Adams then doubled off the same wall, sending Maze home. A base hit from Layton VonBerg brought the Wildcat right fielder around to score, providing a 3-0 cushion.
Tyler Richter hit an infield single to shortstop and was followed by a double from Ashton Shaefer. With two in scoring position, Turman smashed a single down the third base line to bring in one. A grounder to shortstop scored another when the double play could not be turned. The throw at first was missed, but T.J. Lilley picked up the drop and fired to second to beat the runner there.
After two innings, Big Sandy led 3-2.
Ryan Blair was hit by a pitch and thrown out at third on a relay started by Adams in right field in the third inning. On the hit, Scott Guzman landed at second. Trey Ortiz followed with a single, putting runners on the corners. With a full count, Ortiz took a sizable lead on first. When Cherry faked his way, Guzman charged for home. Cherry threw to the plate, where catcher Ryan Brown was waiting to put on the tag. Ashton Albert walked and Richter singled, loading the bags. On a full count, Cherry tossed a knee-high fastball for the strikeout.
In the fourth, Shaefer singled and with two out would be driven in on a triple by Blair. A wild pitch on ball four allowed Blair to score and take a 4-3 Bulldog lead.
“I started off real hot and in the second or third inning I started missing my spots a little,” Cherry said. “I would get ahead in the count on them, but I would just leave it over the plate and I shouldn’t have. They made me pay for it, but my defense helped me out a little. For the last few innings, I was around a 100-pitch count and I wasn’t tired yet. I felt like I was just getting loose, and that’s when I started kicking in again and hitting my spots.”
VonBerg stayed at first for one pitch after a one-out infield single. After stealing second, he was thrown out at third on a fielder’s choice to shortstop. Hendrix slapped a single, putting he and Ben Griffin at the corners for Cherry, who walked to load the bases. At 2-2 on T.J. Lilley, Fisher uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Hendrix and tying the game at four.
Lenox reached base on a single with one out. Cody Adams came in to pinch run for him. Justin Adams followed with a single, putting Cody on third. Garrett Lilley pinch ran for Justin and stole second on the second pitch to VonBerg. On a 1-2 count, the Wildcat shortstop lined to second, where a leaping catch and tag of the base put the inning away.
Guzman reached by error to lead off the seventh and advanced to second when a pickoff was mishandled. Ortiz sacrificed him to third and Albert and Richter were intentionally walked to load the bases for the force at any base. Cherry got a strikeout on Fisher and a pop fly to right field that drifted toward the line. Justin Adams ran to the corner and snared it with one hand to force extra innings.
The top of the Bulldog order was at it again in the the bottom of the ninth. Guzman grounded to first and beat a toss to the pitcher covering to lead off. A four-pitch walk put Ortiz on. Albert hit a liner to Justin Adams in right, who then doubled off Guzman at second. A chopper back to the mound ended the inning and set up the all-important tenth inning.