|District champions squeak by Wildcats|
|Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer|
April 24, 2004 -- It was senior night Friday, as Sulphur Springs was playing its final home game of the 2004 season, but it was district champion McKinney North that came away with its goals still in tact.
The Bulldogs took advantage of four first-inning runs and scored the eventual game-winner in the fifth on its way to a 6-4 win at Eagle Stadium.
It was the second consecutive squeaker for MNHS after Tuesday's 6-5 win over Paris, and the Bulldogs (14-8, 9-0 District 11-4A) have a chance at reaching their preseason goal of going undefeated in loop play next week against Greenville.
The Wildcats (9-15-1, 2-7) struggled early but for the most part didn't perform like a team that didn't have anything to play for. They didn't go down without a fight.
"We were lackadaisical in the first inning and didn't seem to have a lot of focus," SSHS head coach Rahn Smith said. "We've had good defense all year in district but didn't have a good night there, although I still feel our bats have picked it up. It was nice to have some contributions from the bottom part of our order."
Senior Kevin Roberts pitched well enough to win, allowing only five hits and three earned runs in five innings, while walking three and striking out five. Four SSHS errors, including two of his own, didn't help his cause, and he was the first to admit it.
"I didn't get the job done out there tonight," Roberts said. "We hit the ball well, and four runs should have won the game, at least in district. The two errors I made didn't help matters."
The Wildcats put themselves in a four-run predicament but showed everyone in attendance they weren't going to be pushed around, scoring twice in the second and sparking a two-out rally in the third.
Casey McMahan reached on an outfield error, and Josh Riley drove him in with an RBI double to left-center. Roberts helped himself with an RBI single to right that scored Riley and tied the game 4-4.
Roberts (3-5) executed a perfect 1-6-3 double play in the fourth, taking a grounder from Michael Reed and firing to shortstop Logan Pogue, who relayed to Jarred Beck to end the inning.
MNHS pitcher Jesse Laster retired the side in order in the fourth, setting up what would be the deciding inning.
Colston Copeland made a nifty diving catch down the right-field line for the first out, but Jordan Torr doubled to the center-field wall and scored on John Kerby's single to left. Kerby took second on the throw and reached third on a passed ball. One of two plays Roberts wishes he could have back happened in the next at-bat, as he threw the ball past Beck trying to pick off Josh Fisher, allowing Kerby to score from third for a two-run cushion.
Laster found a secret weapon in the final three innings, as he trashed his fastball for his curveball and had the SSHS batters on their front feet. The only hit he allowed was an infield single to Zack Wilhite that was erased when Ben Whillock turned what would normally have been a single up the middle into a double play, as Reed was covering second on an attempted steal.
"We didn't jump on his fastball, and he was able to get ahead of our hitters with his curveball, because we couldn't pick it up," Smith said. "We struck out too much and didn't put any pressure on their defense. I thought we were coming out of that in the last couple of games."
Eight of the first nine Bulldog batters reached base in some form or fashion. Reed led off the game with a single, stole second and scored on Torr's RBI single to left. Kerby laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Trey Gilmore scored on Roberts' errant throw that went into right field.
Torr scored on a Fisher grounder that took a bad bounce past Pogue. SSHS was unable to turn a twin killing on Laster's grounder that allowed Kerby to cross the plate.
"Kevin is all heart," Smith said. "He had the one bad inning but didn't get down and allowed himself to get back in it at the plate. He gave up a couple of hits at the wrong times but still pitched well enough to win. Our defense didn't help him out."
Sam Smith had a two-out single to right in the first inning but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
McMahan walked, Riley singled and Roberts laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to put both runners in scoring position. The bottom of the order came through, as McMahan scored on Copeland's sacrifice fly to left. Beck drove Riley home with a liner to right-center to cut the lead in half. Riley Tatum also singled in the second, but two runners were stranded.
Roberts was able to escape a jam in the third after allowing a leadoff double to Kerby. He struck out Fisher, and induced a fly out to first by Laster, while Smith ran down Alex Burris' liner to center to end the inning.
Whillock showed a lot of promise should it have been his last pitching performance of the year. The junior walked the first batter he faced but showed a lot more poise than in previous outings by retiring six straight, two via strikeout.
Laster allowed seven hits and four earned runs with two walks and eight strikeouts.