With a Game 1 victory over Kingwood in their sights, the Clear Springs Chargers turned to Brady Miller out of the bullpen to relieve starter Blake Schultz.
And boy, did he deliver.
The senior slammed the door on the No. 4-ranked Mustangs, recording the final four outs and giving the Chargers a 2-1 victory in their Region III-6A quarterfinal matchup Thursday at Schroeder Park on the campus of the University of Houston.
“Brady, I mean he’s done great,” Clear Springs coach Chris Floyd said. “Every time he’s come in, he’s thrown strikes and kept us in the game or finished it for us.”
Miller entered with two outs in the sixth inning after another solid performance from fellow senior Schultz, who allowed one run on six hits while striking out four.
After walking Kingwood’s Aaron Lucks, Miller induced a soft line drive by Sam Friday to end the frame.
With the Mustangs down to their final three outs in the seventh, Miller struck out the first two batters he faced and got Masyn Winn to fly out to center to end the game.
“We came into the season with that being our plan; (Miller) would be our guy in the middle and then we’d have another guy to come in and close,” Floyd said. “But when you’re in a three-game series, your pitch counts carry over for three days. So, we didn’t want to bring a guy in for an inning and then bring another guy in because you never know what can happen. But Brady did a great job.”
The Chargers broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fifth when Michael Gillaspia drove in pinch runner Jake Richnow on a sacrifice fly to right field. Richnow was running for Cameron Cooper, who started the inning with a double to deep left-center field off Kingwood starting pitcher Cody Lancaster.
The double was one of three extra-base hits for the Chargers, but they could have had a few more if not for some stellar defense by the Mustangs.
Kingwood center fielder Ben Cegelski made a diving catch to rob Michael Cervantes of at least two bases in the third inning. Kingwood shortstop Tre Richardson made a nice play on a line drive by Tyler Hendrickson in the fifth inning and Trey Luper’s line drive was stifled by the Mustang’s third baseman in the second inning.
“I was telling them to just keep battling at the plate,” Floyd said. “(Kingwood’s) left-hander did a good job of keeping us off balance a little bit, especially in those middle innings.
“But I just told them to keep battling because you never know when that inning is going to be when you get that pitch that puts you into scoring position and somebody can knock you in.”
Hendrickson got things started quickly for Clear Springs when he belted the first pitch he saw from Lancaster in the bottom of the first off of the left-field wall. Cervantes followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Chargers a 1-0 lead.
Kingwood answered in the top half of the second with three hits, tying the game at 1-1 on an RBI single by Cegelski.
But the combination of Schultz and Miller allowed just two hits for the remainder of the game, leaving the Chargers one win away from a regional semifinal berth.
“Tomorrow is a new day, and we’re going to see their best guy,” Floyd said. “So we’ve got to come ready to play. And I can tell you this, we can’t spot them nine runs like we did last weekend. We’ve got to come and be stingy on defense and just battle away at-bats at the plate and try to take advantage of opportunities when get ’em.”
Game 2 starts at 7 p.m. Friday back at UH.