An excellent pitcher’s duel was book-ended by a wild start and an even wilder finish, as the Crosby Cougars took Game 1 of the best-of-three Class 5A regional quarterfinal series, 3-2, Thursday night over the Ball High Tors.
“We understand that the purpose of the three-game series is that the first one to win two games wins it,” Ball High head coach Russell Ferrell said. “It was just a tough game all-around. A lot of should’ves and would’ves and could’ves.”
Trailing 2-1 heading into the seventh inning, the Tors traded their regular road uniforms for their bright gold rally jerseys, and they did the trick to, at least, tie things up and extend the game.
With one out in the frame, right fielder Jo’el Williams worked a seven-pitch walk in a quality at-bat to get the rally started. Catcher Lalo Gutierrez, batting in the 9-hole, then laced a single to center field to get Williams into scoring position, and starting pitcher Thaddeus Wilcox followed that with an RBI single dropped just into fair territory down the right field line, tying the game and atoning for a troublesome first inning.
With runners on the corners, Crosby ace Daniel Nelson came through with a pair of swinging strikeouts to escape the jam, but the second K resulted in the most controversial moment of the game.
Ball High center fielder Kyle Wheeler took off for first base after his swinging third strike was dropped by Crosby catcher Dylan Barnaba, who air-mailed the put-out throw well over the first baseman’s head, and for the moment it appeared Wheeler was safe at first and courtesy runner Zane Spence had come home for the go-ahead run.
But, the umpiring crew ruled Wheeler was on the inside of the running lane on his way to first, resulting in the automatic out call.
“It’s tough, but those are good umpires and I think it was the right call,” Ferrell said. “I didn’t have the angle. The ump said he threw it over his head because he couldn’t see the first baseman.”
Tied, 2-2, in the home half of the seventh, momentum looked to be in Ball High’s favor, but things quickly came unraveled.
After relief pitcher Noah Trevino got the first two outs of the inning on a groundout and a strikeout, control issues ensued, which became the Tors’ undoing. A walk and two straight hit batters loaded the bases, and then an errant pickoff throw to second resulted in a walk-off win for the Cougars.
Ball High broke onto the scoreboard first with a two-out rally in the top of the first for a 1-0 lead. Three straight singles by Wheeler, third baseman Dylan Whitehurst and Trevino loaded the bases, and designated hitter Austin Lawrence got an RBI the hard way with a bases-loaded hit by pitch. A grounder to first ended the frame with the bases still juiced.
But, control issues on the mound also put Ball High in an early 2-1 hole in the bottom of the first. Two runs scored on wild pitches in an inning where Crosby drew three walks, hit two singles and had a hit by pitch. A pair of strikeouts thrown by Wilcox helped end the inning with the bases loaded.
After Wilcox switched cleats following the first inning, he was nearly untouchable, striking out 11 batters over the next 4 1/3 innings. He finished with a pitching line of 5 1/3 innings, three hits, two earned runs, five walks and 13 strikeouts in the no decision.
“If we had to do it all over again, we would’ve switched shoes quicker,” Ferrell said. “He had trouble slipping.”
Nelson picked up the complete-game win with five hits, two earned runs, one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings of work. Crosby left fielder Triston Scherer had an unusual night in the batter’s box, reaching base in all four plate appearances by getting hit by a pitch and only seeing eight pitches total.
The Ball High-Crosby series shifts to Tor Field in Galveston today, with the first pitch scheduled for 8 p.m.