A five-run fourth inning has propelled the Big Sandy Wildcats into the state championship game, defeating the Groveton Indians 7-3 Wednesday morning at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
Falling behind 2-0 in the second inning, Big Sandy took momentum back in the fourth, scoring five times to take a lead that they would not surrender.
All three Indian runs were unearned. Groveton began the scoring in the second inning, when Spenser Pope was hit by a pitch and Saul Chavez bunted. The bunt was taken by Big Sandy catcher Bryce Holmes and thrown to first. The throw deflected off first baseman Anthony Parrish's glove, allowing a run to score and Chavez to slide safely into third. Chance Coker got the second run in with a sacrifice fly in center field.
Groveton appeared to have control of the contest at that point. Through three innings, Indian hurler Glenn Thornton was nearly untouchable.
“We had watched this kid throw and we knew he was going to be throwing hard sliders,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “We haven't seen a real power arm with a real power slider all year, so I knew if we could give up just one or two runs, we would be fine. We knew if we got through the lineup one time, we would start seeing the ball a little bit better. He is good and going to Blinn (Junior College) for a reason. We just wanted to stay within striking distance and we did.”
Down a couple of runs, Wildcat outfielders put the offense in motion. Broch Holmes walked and a double by Kylie Cox brought him in. Cox's fly ball in center field was misplayed, turning Chavez around twice. Holmes slid in home as the relay arrived for the Wildcats' first run.
“I have a center fielder that has been playing lights out all season long,” Groveton coach Wayne Williams said. “He let one get up in the wind and just carry over his head to score one run. A second run scored and I thought we threw the guy out, but that was a game-changer, because after that they rattled off three hits in a row. I told my assistant coach if anyone can get three hits off of a No. 1 pitcher, then they are a good team. We fought to the end and we put up our best effort.”
Aaron Thompson singled to left, leaving runners on the corners. A suicide squeeze by Cody Adams brought in Cox safe at the plate. A base hit then by Garrett Lilley scored Thompson, giving the Wildcats their first lead of the game. With two on in scoring position, Austin Hendrix helped his own cause, singling to center field and plating both. After four innings of play, Big Sandy held a 5-2 advantage.
Phenomenal as always, Austin Hendrix allowed three unearned runs on four hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and walked no one.
“I came out with the mindset that I was going to pitch to contact,” the Wildcat pitcher said. “I wanted to let my defense help me. I really wasn't trying to strike anybody out. I was trying to keep them off-balance and mixing it up. I would throw a fastball to try to get it by them every now and then. We are in the state tournament and everybody can hit, you can't just blow it by them.”
Adams and Lilley each singled to begin the bottom of the sixth, setting up insurance runs for the team from Dallardsville. Bryce Holmes doubled to right, allowing Adams to cross home plate. Brandon Hendrix drove in senior Landon Creel, running for Lilley, giving Big Sandy a five-run advantage.
Trying to mount a comeback in the bottom of the seventh, Indian left fielder Pope beat out an infield single. A sacrifice bunt and throwing error put him on third. A sacrifice fly to left field brought in Pope for the final run.
“It feels great,” Williams said of Groveton making the state tournament for the first time. “I told these kids for a while, we have been a football school. I said that we can do this in baseball also. I told them if they will listen to me, I will get them here. This is my first year here and next year we want to implement more into our offensive system. Defensively, we didn't make any errors, and that's one thing I am proud of. I told the kids that if we don't make errors, it's going to be hard for us to get beat. When you run into a team like (Big Sandy) that can swing the bats, it's a little bit different. They just have a great team and they are well-coached.”
For Groveton, the team ends the season at 31-4, the best record in school history.
“We will lose nine seniors, but I told them we are not going to rebuild, we are just going to reload,” Williams said. “We want to get back here next year. I am just proud for Groveton and I'm proud that we are on the map in baseball. I plan on being here a long time, if they say so. I have loved this game ever since my mom and dad put me in it at four or five years old. I lost my father this year and this team took me on a ride to make me forget about it. It's been a great ride and I've enjoyed it.”
For Big Sandy, a match with Muenster will decide the state championship. First pitch is set for 9 a.m. Stay tuned to www.polkenterprise.com and the Polk County Enterprise Facebook page for results and articles on all the action in Round Rock.