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.”