Wildcats one win away from clinching postseason berth

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 21, 2007 - The Sulphur Springs Wildcats were able to separate themselves somewhat from the other teams in District 11-4A by pulling away from Paris Friday night.

The Wildcats received a couple of key plays from junior catcher Josh Dunn in the pivotal fifth inning to take a 6-2 victory over Paris at Eagle Stadium.

With the win, Sulphur Springs improved to 6-2 in district (15-9 overall), and remain at least tied for the 11-4A lead pending the outcome of Texas High (5-2) and Lindale (0-7). Mount Pleasant (3-5) did the Wildcats a favor by beating North Lamar (5-3), dropping the Panthers to third, while Paris sits at 4-4.

SSHS will clinch a playoff berth with a victory in its last two games or a Paris loss.

After the top of the first inning on Friday, the Wildcats faced an uphill climb.

Paris scored a pair of runs in the first as SSHS ace Brittan Diamond was uncharacteristically wild, walking three and hitting another batter as he threw 33 pitches.

After Diamond issued a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to Jon Mark Abbey, SSHS head coach Jerrod Hammack visited the mound.

"As I walked out, Brittan asked, 'Coach, what am I doing wrong?' " Hammack recalled. "I said, 'I think your adrenaline is running too high. You're throwing hard and it's up. Just settle down.'

"When we got out of it with just two runs, I thought we were pretty fortunate. Then, he settled down and threw outstanding, which is what you expect of him."

Diamond registered all three first-inning outs on strikeouts, freezing the batters with his curveball on called third strikes. It was a sign of things to come as he fanned 12 in the game and allowed just three hits. After the first inning, he didn't walk another batter.

That gave the Wildcat offense ample opportunity. Diamond, in the leadoff spot in the line-up, got it going in the bottom of the first with a line drive single up the middle. Ladarius "Cootie" Harrison then reached on a sacrifice bunt that was misplayed.

Tyler Rhoades' fly ball allowed courtesy runner Chris Kultgen to move to third, and Kultgen scored on a wild pitch. Harrison went from first to third on the wild pitch and came home on Colby Strain's sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2-2.

Strain finished the game 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.

The score stayed 2-2 until the third inning when Rhoades walked, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Clay Wilks' infield grounder. Wilks reached base in all four plate appearances with a hit, two walks and a fielder's choice RBI grounder.

The Wildcats hung onto the 3-2 lead in large part due to Diamond, who retired 10 Paris batters in a row leading up to the fifth.

In the fifth inning, Paris' Decedric Sims lined a single a left. But Sims, Paris' fastest runner, was erased by a strong throw by Dunn on an attempted steal of second.

"That was a big throw out," Hammack said. "That kid had a big lead, he's fast, and he was out by several steps. When you have a catcher who can throw fast runners out, and you do it one time they don't want to steal anymore. That shuts the running game down."

It also saved a run when Josh Rea singled one out later.

Still up 3-2, the Wildcats got some breathing room in the fifth. Strain led off with a double down the right field line and Wilks walked. Jake North drove home one run with an infield grounder, then Dunn drove home the other with a double into the right field gap.

Courtesy runner Koby Ivey took third on a wild pitch, one of five by Paris pitchers, and came home on Dalton Abner's ground out.

Diamond, who improved to 7-2, then mowed down the final six Paris batters in order, fanning five of them in the process.

Cullen Colabrim took the loss for Paris as he went 2 1/3 inning, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits and four walks. Colton Reavis threw 3 2/3 innings of relief and allowed three earned runs.

Sulphur Springs had base runners in every inning but one and left nine runners stranded. But, they got the win.

"We had a lot of opportunities to score in a lot of innings and didn't get that key hit," Hammack said. "But, we grind it out enough, and that was a big three runs in the fifth inning. That gave us some breathing room, then Brittan just shut the door at the end."

Notes: The Wildcats host Texas High on Tuesday in a first-place showdown. The Senior Night game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start. ... With two games to play in the regular season, only Lindale has been eliminated from playoff contention and no one has clinched a postseason berth. ... Dunn reached base in all three of his plate appearances with a single, double and walk. ... Diamond was issued an intentional walk with two outs and one on in the second inning. It appeared Harrison, batting behind him, would make Paris pay when he hit a chopper past the mound, but Paris shortstop Josh Rea made a diving stop behind second and flipped the ball to Jon Mark Abbey covering for the force out.

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