The Big Sandy Wildcats took the final two games of its best-of-three series with Refugio to advance to the Regional Finals.
The contests were won by margins of 6-0 and 9-4, after the Wildcats were no-hit in the series opener.
“I think the rain helped us stop their momentum, because they looked a lot different on Thursday than they did Saturday,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “They were stunned when we hopped on them 2-0 and I think that momentum carried us into Game 3.
“They took a 2-0 lead in Game 3, but we hit a home run and it just changed the momentum of the game. You could see the deflation in their face. They haven’t had to play from behind all year. They made some quotes and said some things that we found on Facebook and Twitter that I won’t say here, but I relayed it to our kids to let them know. I think that was motivation for them. We just played great baseball — we really did. Someone told me this is the farthest the school has ever been, so it is a pretty neat little deal.”
Ethan Cherry shined in the first contest, pitching a complete game shutout and holding the Bobcats to four hits. The senior would also pick up six strikeouts, only walking two.
“Ethan had them off balance and they just rolled over and popped up,” Hooker said. “That was the best game I have seen him pitch this year by far.”
Six errors were a big reason for the Bobcat struggles. Big Sandy scored two runs in the third, sixth and seventh innings to force a winner-take-all final match.
Ben Griffin had two hits and two RBIs at the plate, while Ryan Brown also drove in a pair.
“A lot of us were tired from the games that we were playing, but we just kept it going and made defensive plays,” second baseman Seth Maze said. “We just wanted to keep them from scoring and keep the lead going.”
“It was crazy in the dugout and it was loud,” senior Preston Cain said. “We were all screaming and slapping each other.”
Game 3 started off with a two-run inning from the Bobcats in the first, after the Wildcats were held scoreless in the first.
Jacobe Avery, who was part of a no-hitter thrown on Thursday versus the Wildcats, was not nearly as effective, as Big Sandy hitters were able to put the bat on the ball much more.
“A lot more intensity,” Kyle Lenox said of the difference in the two games. “The pitching speed was a difference, trying to adjust (in Game 1). There wasn’t that much of a change the second string to the third string pitcher on Saturday. We were just more prepared in (Game 3) to hit and play good defense.”
The first inning would be the last time in the game Big Sandy would have a problem scoring. Base runners crossed home plate at least once in each of the following six innings, surpassing the Bobcats for good in the third with a three-run inning.
“We got a couple of base hits and bunted some people over. Ethan just kind of threw his hands and hit a ball into the outfield and two runs came in to put us up, 4-2,” Hooker said. “It just kind of went from there.”
Though T.J. Lilley started on the hill for the Wildcats in Game 3, Cherry, Griffin and Austin Hendrix would all see time on the there. Lilley went two and two-thirds innings, striking out five. Cherry returned after tossing seven frames in Game 2 to go an inning and two-thirds and punch out three.
“I think it’s the first time I pitched one game and then came back and pitched in another,” Cherry said. “I told coach after the first game (on Saturday) that I could go a few Innings if I needed to. It wasn’t a problem.”
He was also instrumental in helping put up a consistent offensive attack, with four runs driven in, including a home run.
“My first at-bat that game, they got two runs and we didn’t do so well. I just wanted to get it down somewhere, but he threw it right over the middle and I made him pay for it,” Cherry said of the homer. “After that I just kind of stayed hot.”
Junior Austin Hendrix took the ball with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, striking out a batter to work out of a jam. Two additional insurance runs crossed the plate in the seventh for the Wildcats, more than Hendrix would need to finish off the Bobcats.
“It was nice to have them,” Hendrix said of the extra protection. “I was kind of worn out, so I wanted them to put the ball in play and let my defense play behind me. I gave it my all.”
“I told them if anybody walked two batters, I was going to pull them,” Hooker said. “Everybody was available and we needed four outs to end the game. I went out there to talk to Ethan and Austin said he wanted the ball. I’m not going to take it away from my horse. He got up there and threw 15 pitches total and got the four outs we needed. He got a big strikeout with the bases loaded and got two more strikeouts and a ground ball to get out of there.”
The challenges only get tougher from here. Flatonia, the defending state champions, will be the last obstacle standing between the team and the state tournament in Round Rock.
“Flatonia is the defending state champs and they are going to bunt and play the game right,” Hooker said. “They hustle out of the box and defensively they’re pretty good. They do everything right. They run the bases correctly, hit their cuts on defense, and will not make many mistakes. They don’t have any really big power arms, but they have two guys that can get up and go and are going to be really good on the mound. The coach has done a great job with them and has been to the state tournament three out of the last five years. He played for the state championship all three of those times. He obviously has that program as top-notch in 2A. He is where we would like to be.”
Currently, all contests this week are scheduled for play at Mumford High School. Game 1 is on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Game 2 is Saturday at 3 p.m., with Game 3, if necessary, 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.