With both teams displaying excellent pitching and defense, only one run was needed to decide Game 2 of the best-of-three area round series Saturday at Humble High School, as the No. 3 state-ranked Kingwood Mustangs eked by the Clear Falls Knights, 1-0, to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
The second-round playoff loss ends a rollercoaster of a season for the Knights, who started strong, stumbled to a 1-5 record in district, finished the regular season on a 5-1 run to clinch 24-6A’s third place playoff seed, and won a three-game bi-district playoff series over Houston Strake Jesuit last week.
“It speaks to the character of our kids,” Clear Falls head coach Eddie Youngblood said. “To be 1-5 in district, to come back and give the third-ranked team in the state that game right there, that says a whole lot about where we are as a program. We’re in the same boat, we just didn’t get it done today. That’s baseball.”
Masyn Winn’s clutch two-out RBI single in the top of the third inning proved to be the game-winner for Kingwood.
Justin Long led off the inning by raking a double to right field, but the Knights appeared like they might escape the inning unharmed after an interference out call on a bunt attempt and a grounder to shortstop. But, Carter Amarantos walked to extend the inning before Winn’s run-scoring knock.
Clear Falls had a promising opportunity to score right off the bat in the bottom of the first when a pair of singles from Corey Lanier and Jake Trapani sandwiched a fly out to put two on with one out, but a strikeout and a fly out ended the threat.
A Baylan Vaughan double smashed to deep left field with two outs in the bottom of the fifth broke up a streak of 13 batters retired in a row by Kingwood starter Ryan Michie, but a fly out ended that inning.
“He got in a rhythm, and we didn’t do a good job of stepping out and changing his rhythm — we needed to do a better job doing that,” Youngblood said of Michie’s performance. “You saw a lot of line drives and pop ups. If we had to go back and do it over again, we’d try to stay back a little bit more, go the other way.”
The Knights mounted one final rally when Cooper Timmons laced a one-out double to left field and tagged up and reached third base on a fly out, but a fly out ended the game.
“We had some opportunities, but you’ve got to give them credit; their pitcher worked out of jams and did a fine job,” Youngblood said.
Tyler Malone had a strong outing on the mound for Clear Falls, giving up just the one run, four hits and four walks with eight strikeouts. In the top of the second, Malone escaped a leadoff three-base error by striking out the next three batters.
“I’m really proud of Tyler, he did a great job,” Youngblood said. “He’s special. He’s had several games like that this year. They have some talented hitters in that lineup, so for him to compete as well as he did today, that was special.”
In his complete game shutout win, Michie surrendered four hits and no walks with six strikeouts.