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Big Sandy sweeps Thorndale, advances to state

The Big Sandy Wildcats have reached the baseball state tournament by sweeping Thorndale in two games, 3-2 (11 innings) and 5-1 in the Regional Finals.

Over the past two years, wins were never easy versus Thorndale, but Saturday’s largest barrier were storms that moved into the area after the fourth inning. However, the team not only maintained its two-run lead, but improved upon it immediately following the hiatus.

“I am numb. It is the first time in school history and a pretty neat accomplishment,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “I thank coach (and superintendent Eric) Carpenter and coach (and athletic director Kevin) Foster for taking a chance on me — and I'm glad they did. Coach Foster has been to state several times (in basketball), so he understands the grind. Last year we lost on June 3 and I told all those kids out there that we are not going to have a letdown this year. They didn't.”

Bryce Holmes singled down the right field line on the second pitch of the game and Bryan Duff would follow with a single of his own. Austin Hendrix moved both over with a fly out to center. Sophomore Broch Holmes hit a fly ball to the right field gap that center fielder Cory Huber could not run down. Both runners crossed home plate, putting the 'Cats up 2-0 after one.

A single and error in right field set up an RBI-single into left for Ryan Biar, the lone senior on the Thorndale roster.

With a 2-1 lead, Big Sandy left fielder Cody Adams was hit by a pitch and second baseman Garrett Lilley bunted for a single. Austin Hendrix hit a Texas Leaguer to left to bring in the lead runner. After four innings, the Wildcats held a 3-1 advantage.

A flash of lightning in the distance halted the fifth inning from beginning. The two teams discussed moving the game south, before ultimately deciding to wait out the storms until 10 p.m.

After a four hour-rain delay, Broch Holmes, put the game back in motion with his second hit — a double. He would be thrown out at third on a fielder's choice. A walk by Aaron Thompson, who also had a pair of hits, put runners on first and second. Adams collected an infield hit to load the bases. Garrett Lilley slugged a single that scored two, pushing the lead out to 5-1.

The postponement also had no impact on pitcher Bryce Holmes. The senior was arguably better after the break, pumping fastballs by Bulldog hitters and shutting down any plans of offense.

“I went back to the gym right after the delay and kept tossing the ball around and making sure I was staying loose,” Bryce said. “My arm felt good and I told them that I was going back in. I've always just been the type of kid to go out and play without stretching. As I have gotten older, I have to stay active every few minutes, stay on my feet, and keep my blood flowing.”

It worked, as he would finish with six strikeouts and allow just three hits and two walks over seven innings of work on the hill.

The senior performer was not able to compete with the varsity last season, moving in from Woodville.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” Bryce said. “All of the people that put me, my family, and my school down, it was definitely worth the wait. I can't wait to see what we still have in store.”

After making the Regional Finals last season, Big Sandy won Game 1 versus eventual state champion Flatonia. Leading in Game 2, a rain delay seemed to turn momentum in the series. This edition of Wildcat baseball was in no danger of that happening again.

“We sat through a four-hour delay and came out and swung a little bit,” Hooker said. “After those two runs, we got a little content at the plate. To ask Bryce to come back after that long and do what he did — he just said automatically, ‘I'll take it.’ I told him that he is the senior and he took it.”

The team now travels to Round Rock’s Dell Diamond to face Groveton Wednesday at 9 a.m. If successful, they will face the winner of Albany and Muenster at the same time Thursday. Stay tuned to www.polkenterprise.com or the Polk County Enterprise Facebook page for updates scores and the latest on all Big Sandy baseball.

“We are blessed is all I can say,” senior Austin Hendrix said of his team. “Last year, we had a really good run and I miss those guys. This year, our coach told us that we have the talent and we can do it, it is all about heart. This year's team is almost the same. Those seniors last year didn't want to give up either, but this year these kids have worked really hard. They are going to have a good run the next two or three years. Now we are here, headed to Round Rock.”

Wildcats going to state baseball tournament

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For the first time in school history, the Big Sandy Wildcats are going to the state baseball tournament in Round Rock after a victory against Thorndale in Regional Finals. The Wildcats won 3-2 in 11 innings on Thursday and 5-1 on Saturday after a four-hour rain delay. Big Sandy will play Wednesday at 9 a.m. against Groveton. Albany and Muenster will be competing at noon. The winners of each game will face each other for the state title.

Big Sandy's exciting season ends in Regional Quarterfinals

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Big Sandy’s season has ended, as the local Area champions did not have an answer for the speed and defense of the Italy Gladiators in a 56-37 game at Centerville’s Tiger Gymnasium.

“I thought their quickness really hurt us,” Big Sandy coach Kevin Foster said after the game. “The pace of the game was honestly how he wanted it, with the exception of the times we turned it over, we struggled to score more than I thought we would. I thought we would be able to score more in the half-court against them and we missed a lot of easy ones and played uncharacteristic of how we’re capable. I think their quickness had a lot to do with that.”

The Wildcats left with shooting hands a little warm the last time they were in Tiger Gymnasium about a month ago, having made 17 3-pointers in a district match with Centerville.

Their fortunes seemed to have run out, as the rims were not as kind Tuesday. Getting back on defense and setting up full-court pressure left Big Sandy without a transition game and playing half-court basketball. Italy took away big chunks of momentum and points from the Big Sandy attack.

A sloppy game early, the Wildcats did not get a shot off for two minutes. Neither team could control the ball with several turnovers by both.

Down 7-2, Cole Foster entered off the bench and drilled a three from the wing with 2:38 to go in the first. An Aaron Thompson free throw would be all the scoring the rest of the period. After one, the ‘Cats trailed 7-6. Keith Davis II scored all seven for the Gladiators.

Two Italy 3-pointers to begin the second had Kevin Foster calling for time out with 6:46 to play in the half. Another from long range had them up 16-6.

Aaron Thompson and Britton Dickens hit layups, but Italy seemed throw the press at Big Sandy in waves. The small, but quick guards were no larger than 5’8” and all four maintained pressure on the ball, waiting for errant passes — of which the Wildcats had more than usual. Fundamental lapses and getting out-hustled for balls — what is normally seen from Big Sandy opponents — allowed Italy to command the second quarter. A three in the waning seconds from Samuel Richard brought the game to 27-16 at the locker room break.

“I think some of it was nerves but we were not smooth tonight,” the coach said. “We never got in any sort of rhythm offensively and I attribute that to their quickness. They did a good job and they disrupted everything we wanted to do offensively.”

At half, Davis II had 12 points and Kevin Johnson had eight (all second quarter). Richard was tops on the Wildcats with five.

Down 33-19, the Thompsons — Isaiah and Aaron — each hit a 3-pointer and Richard converted a three-point play to help bring Big Sandy back. The Wildcats held their opponents to just 10 points in the quarter, scoring 14 themselves. At the end of three quarters, Italy led 37-30, but it was a contested game once more.

Unfortunately for the Dallardsville group, the fourth quarter was their toughest. Shots were scarce, as the Gladiators held the ball to drain the clock. As had been the case most of the game, shots were not falling for the ‘Cats. Italy took advantage of a team that could not get into a flow on offense or start their transition game because of the on-ball pressure.

Davis II scored seven of his 21 in the quarter and Tylan Wallace emerged to get six of his 10 for the game, matching teammate Johnson’s 10 points.

Richard, who had 15 points for the game, attempted to carry Big Sandy with ball handling, penetration and shooting. But team turnovers and Italy pressure were again the Wildcats’ downfall. Aaron Thompson was second on the team with nine points.

“To lose 10 seniors, basically have only one guy back, have JV and junior high kids, and to make it to the third round — if you would have told me that, I’m not so sure I would have believed you. But I would have taken it. It hurts to get to this point, because you’re so close to a regional tournament, but it is experience you can’t get anywhere else.

“We have everybody back next year and even though we didn’t play well, maybe we can learn from it. I was disappointed in the result, but overall, I am proud of them. Hopefully we can take this and because we have everybody back, we have a chance to be really good next year. We need to take how this feels and use it as a motivation for next year. We need to remember this feeling and commit ourselves to working. Life is full of disappointments and it is how you react to it that makes you who you are.”

Basketball Playoff Updates

LEGGETT AND BIG SANDY PLAYOFF ACTION: The Leggett Pirates will play against the Waelder Wildcats, Tuesday at Navasota, starting at 6 p.m. The Big Sandy Wildcats will face the Italy Gladiators, Tuesday at Centerville, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Youthful Wildcats beginning to mature in postseason

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The Big Sandy Wildcats used a strong fourth quarter to shake off a pesky Riesel Indian squad 73-58 Friday at Bryan Rudder High School.
The team without a senior found a way to win, despite not playing at their best.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. Riesel did a good job tonight and give them credit, they gave us a lot of problems. We really didn’t play well until the fourth quarter and our foul trouble had something to do with that.”

The opponent just southeast of Waco was a four seed coming out of District 18-2A, but defeated a district champion in the bi-district round in Crawford.

Big Sandy wasted no time building a 7-0 lead and appeared too quick for a Riesel team that settled for tough shots. However with just two minutes off the clock, Aaron Thompson picked up his second foul on a questionable reaching call. At 9-3, Indian coach Blake Doughty asked for time.

A three by Brooks Embry and layup from Mike Ruiz had the Indians within one. A Jase Little jumper from a foot away had Riesel in front. It wouldn’t last long, as Cole Foster got a long three to fall.

Britton Dickens had two baskets underneath the rim to extend the lead to six. Riesel had one more run of five points to bring the score to 16-15 after one.

Samuel Richard scored the first two buckets of the second, but the Indians kept working. With 3:20 left in the second, they took another one-point lead at 24-23. The lead would build to six at 31-25 as Big Sandy continued its carelessness with the ball.

But just like Riesel in the first quarter, the Wildcats had a five-point run, bringing the score to a one-point difference at 31-30.

Aaron Thompson’s absence in the first quarter seemed to impact a Wildcat team that was not as sharp in transition as it was Tuesday versus Kerens. His second-quarter performance wasn’t quite on par with recent showings.

That was quickly rectified in the third, as the Wildcats were behind for 11 seconds into the period. Aaron had five points just two minutes into the quarter, as opposed to just one in the first half. But it was his ball handling and igniting fast breaks where he was most valuable.

“He gets us set in our offense so well,” Foster said. “A good point guard is like the quarterback of your team — he gets everybody where they need to be. He has been in foul trouble before, but we were a little shaky when it happened tonight.”

The Wildcats’ 9-0 run to begin the half was a needed boost, energizing the team in purple. The two traded buckets, the rest of the stanza, but the Indians collected seven fouls, meaning the Wildcats could spend much of the fourth at the charity stripe.

After three, Big Sandy had the lead at 48-40.

A passing clinic was put on by Aaron Thompson in the fourth, while Dickens controlled the boards.

“The last two games he has been outstanding rebounding the ball for us and doing a good job in the middle of that 2-3 (zone). We’ve had to get out on the shooters and they are attacking the gap on the zone,” Foster said. “We have been funneling them to him and he has done a great job of holding his ground, getting his hand up, and affecting a lot of those shots.”

The ‘Cats were running and opened an 18-point advantage midway through the quarter at 63-45. Riesel closed the gap to 65-53 and Richard fouled out on a technical with just under three minutes to play.

The free throw line played a part down the stretch for both teams with each in the double bonus. The ‘Cats went 9-13 from the line in the fourth quarter alone.

“We had been playing so well since district started, but I also think Riesel did a good job,” the Big Sandy coach said. “We didn’t respond very well and we let them take us out of our offense. We really lacked execution, but it is a learning process. But I learned a long time ago that an ugly win is better than a loss.”

Mikey Ruiz led the Indians with 16 points, Brooks Embry had 14, and Little had 11. For the Wildcats, Richard led all with 18, Dickens and Jackson Mayer had 13, and Aaron Thompson had 11.

The Big Sandy playoff journey will next be in the Regional Quarterfinals Tuesday versus Italy, runners up from District 19-2A.

The Gladiators have defeated Mart 70-39 and Lovelady 65-60 in the postseason.

Click polkenterprise.com for information on playoff times and sites.

big-sandy-1Samuel Richard (21) led all scores with 18 points.

big-sandy-2Isaiah Thompson scored eight points in the first three quarters, when the Wildcat offense was not at its best.

Big Sandy and Leggett Playoff Basketball

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The Big Sandy Wildcats are scheduled for Area action Friday at 7 p.m. versus the Riesel Indians at Bryan Rudder High School.

The Leggett Pirates will also play Friday versus the Angoras of Rocksprings. The 6 p.m. Area game will be Friday at Manor High School.