Behind a big third inning and a one-hit performance on the mound, Big Sandy took the opening match over the defending state champion Flatonia Bulldogs in a best-of-three series, 4-0 on the campus of Mumford ISD.
“You couldn’t ask for a better performance,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “It was second-batter singles and that is it. Hendrix pitched his tail off. We had good approaches the first time around too. The momentum of Austin on the mound the whole game allowed us to keep the momentum.”Layton VonBerg got the offense off to a positive start with a liner to center field in the first inning. Right behind him, Ben Griffin slapped a bouncer past a diving glove at third base. After a fly out, Ethan Cherry worked a full count before walking. Ryan Brown hit a fly ball to right, but the runner at third failed to tag up. What should have been a 1-0 lead had turned into a double play.
“Our base running was atrocious and it was the first thing I addressed out there with them,” Hooker said.
Lead off hitter VonBerg again found his way on base with a Texas Leaguer to begin the third. Griffin, once again, smacked a single, this time to center field. After two fly outs, Ryan Brown sliced a double down the right field line to score VonBerg and put the ‘Cats up by one.
“I was just trying to find a gap somewhere and hope that we could get in a run,” Brown said. “I knew he had a decent curveball and I have been having trouble with that.”
T.J. Lilley was beaned, loading the bags for Seth Maze. The Big Sandy second baseman worked a walk to bring in Griffin for a 2-0 lead. Kyle Lenox then drove a pitch over shortstop, clearing the way for two more scores to cap a four-run frame. All runs were scored with two outs.
“His curveball wasn’t really working and most of his breaking balls weren’t,” Lenox said of his big at-bat. “You wait until he throws meat right down there and just try to take it.”
Lenox, one of the team’s most patient hitters, had seen plenty of pitches by the end of his second trip to the plate. He also drew two walks in the game.
“Kyle came up with a huge hit to push it from two to four,” Hooker said. “Expanding the lead was big, because they threatened in the next few innings.”
Kaddin Mikulik started the Bulldogs with a one-out base on balls in the top half of the fourth. He stole second and was moved to third on a bounce out. With two away, Blaine Besetzny tagged a liner that Maze ran down to end the threat.
VonBerg was back leading off in the fourth and doing what he does best. The shortstop reached base with yet another hit, giving him three for the game in just the fourth inning. Griffin followed with his third, as well. After putting the first two on, Bulldog pitcher Nick Flores was stingy, not allowing a run.
Hendrix issued a four-pitch walk to Easton Migl after a strikeout in the fifth. Migl took second after two pitches to San Juan Ramirez. Ramirez pushed a bunt down the first base line, sacrificing Migl to third. Hendrix found his next strikeout victim in Matthew Kozelsky, who flailed at a curveball that tailed away from him.
“We were just working in and out and hitting spots,” Brown said of calling the game for his pitcher.
“I think the first two innings it took me awhile to get settled in,” Hendrix said. “They were jumping on me pretty quick and hitting hard shots. After that, I kind of settled down and found my groove and worked in the change-up more than I have been. I had my defense behind me again and that’s all you need. I was looking for the least amount of pitches on my arm possible.”
Needing three outs, Hendrix toed the rubber for a final time in the seventh. Braydon Mica opened the inning with a grounder to shortstop for the first out. Besetzny hit a dribbler that the catcher Brown handled for two down.
Flores was the final challenge. On a 1-2 count, Hendrix got a swing and miss to close the game. The Big Sandy pitcher would finish with 11 strikeouts, while surrendering just one hit in the complete game shutout.