Mustangs Advance to State Title Game
By Will Johnson
ROUND ROCK – Holy Cow! Wow! What a game! First, the Slocum Mustangs jumped ahead by three. Then, the New Home Leopards scored four. The Mustangs plated four in the bottom of the sixth only to see the Leopards tie the game in the top of the seventh with three runs. Finally, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, back-to-back errors by New Home allowed Slocum to scratch out a run which punched the Mustangs ticket to the UIL Class 1A State Baseball Championship Game.
As the game got underway, Taylor Hunt was on the mound for the Mustangs. Hunt worked a fairly easy first inning as he got Kaleb LeClair to ground into a 4-3 force. Bode Stewart was up next and drew a walk off of Hunt.
Hunt tried to pick off Stewart at first but an error on the throw allowed Stewart to slide safely into second. Reed Bundy followed Stewart in the batting order and grounded out to short. On the same play, Stewart moved to third. It didn’t matter, however, because Hunt coaxed Keagan Grantham to swing at a pitch well out of the zone for strike three to end New Home’s half of the first.
Grantham was on the bump for the Leopards and Hunt greeted him with a lead-off single. Joe Byrnes followed Hunt in the batter’s box and hit into fielder’s choice at second. Austin Sarraf was up next and hit a high fly ball into shallow center. New Home’s shortstop drifted back to attempt a catch but dropped the ball.
Unfortunately, the shallow fly caught Byrnes in no-man’s land and gave Bundy time to retrieve the ball and fire to second for an out. Taylor Lomax followed in the order and sent a rocket down the first baseline that New Home’s Matt Bradley was able to snag in mid-flight for the third out.
Despite giving up a lead-off single to Ethan Martinez, Hunt had a relatively easy second inning, as well. He struck out Matt Bradley and then followed up with a K of Kaden Buckelew.
With two outs, the Mustangs caught a lucky break. Hunt tried to pick off Martinez at first but the ball got past first baseman Dustin Fletcher. It caromed off the wall and came right back to Fletcher who turned and fired to Randy Guess at second base who applied the tag to Martinez as he tried to advance on the error.
The Mustangs got on the board in the bottom of the second and took a 1-0 lead as the back half of the batting order came through for Slocum. Colton Peters led off with a single into right field. After Fletcher popped to short, a Ben Haney single to right moved Peters to second while Randy Guess loaded the bases with a single to center.
Andrew Abernathy was up next and hit into a 4-6 fielder’s choice at second. On the play, however, Peters was able to cross the dish with the game’s first run. That was all Slocum could muster in their half of the second as Hunt grounded out to third to end the inning.
As the game moved into the third inning, Hunt struggled with his control but managed to keep the Leopards from scoring. First, Hunt plunked Dylan Martinez with a pitch. Then, he got Blake Buckelew to pop up back to the mound. Martinez stole second, but LeClair fanned for the second out. Stewart was up next and he was also hit by a Hunt pitch but Bundy bailed out Hunt as he popped up to short to end the Leopards’ at-bat.
Slocum tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the inning and took a 3-0 lead into the fourth. Byrnes led off with a single to right and Sarraf drew a walk. Then, Byrnes and Sarraf moved up a base on a passed ball followed by a Lomax single which drove in Byrnes and advanced Sarraf to third.
An infield error allowed Peters to reach and gave Sarraf time to scamper home. Lomax attempted to take third on the error but was gunned down at the bag. Fletcher followed with a strikeout and Haney grounded out to third to end the inning.
Trailing 3-0 in the top of the fourth, the Leopards began to chip away at the Slocum lead. Grantham and Martinez had back-to-back singles to open the inning and both moved up a base on an infield error. Bradley hit into a fielder’s choice to drive in Grantham, but Hunt was able to strike out K. Buckelew and then forced Bradley to ground out to end the inning.
The Mustangs went quietly in the bottom of the fourth. Guess struck out but Abernathy managed to leg out an infield single. He was stranded at the first base bag, however, as Hunt struck out swinging while Burns lined out to third.
The fifth inning saw the Leopards take the lead and it began with a questionable call at first. B. Buckelew hit a chopper to third that was fielded by Sarraf. Sarraf fired to Fletcher at first but it appeared B. Buckelew had beaten the throw. Replays, however, showed Sarraf’s throw caught Buckelew by a half- step.
LeClair followed in the lineup and singled into the outfield. On the throw back in, B. Buckelew took third and LeClair moved to second. Stewart followed with a walk and then Bundy singled to drive in Buckelew and LeClair. Stewart worked his way to third but was doubled up when Grantham hit a shot to Sarraf at third. Sarraf tagged Stewart for one out and then threw a frozen rope to Fletcher at first for the second out.
Bundy moved to third on the play and when Hunt attempted to pick him off, his throw went awry and Bundy trotted home to give New Home a 4-3 lead. Now down by one, Hunt managed to re-group and struck out E. Martinez to retire the Leopards in the fifth.
The Mustangs threatened in the bottom of the fifth but were unable to do any damage. Hunt went back to the mound in the top of the sixth and retired the Leopards in order. He forced Bradley to fly out to center, got Ryan Weeks to ground out and then struck out Dylan Martinez to send the game into the bottom of the sixth.
It’s been said the late innings can be either magical or heartbreaking and it was for both teams. Haney led off the Slocum sixth and hit into a 6-3 force. Guess followed with a walk but Abernathy struck out. Hunt was up next and hit a bloop single to right which moved Guess to third. On the play, Guess managed to take third while Hunt moved to second.
Byrnes followed with a walk which brought Sarraf to the plate. On a 2-2 pitch, Sarraf hit a single to center. The centerfielder tried to field the ball on a hop but it skipped under his glove and rolled all the way to the warning track.
Guess scored, Hunt scored, Byrnes scored and Sarraf managed to make it home before the Leopards could get the ball back to the infield. The single and error gave the Mustangs a 7-4 lead and seemed to deflate the Leopards.
Stewart relieved Grantham on the mound and after an error and a single, he managed to get Fletcher to hit into an inning ending ground out.
While New Home was seemingly out of gas after Sarraf’s hit and the error, they didn’t quit fighting and tied the game with three runs in the top of the seventh.
Hunt was still on the mound and hit the first batter he faced, B. Buckelew. LeClair followed with a ground ball out to first while B. Buckelew took second. Stewart was up next and he was also hit by a Hunt pitch.
That was all for Hunt as Lomax came in to relieve him. Lomax did not have his best stuff on Wednesday afternoon and threw back-to-back wild pitches that allowed Buckelew to score and sent Stewart to third. Bundy drew a walk and when Lomax’s pick-off attempt sailed wide of first, Stewart crossed the plate and Bundy motored into third.
Grantham was up next and he hit a deep fly ball which carried over the head of Byrnes, bounced once and hopped the fence for a ground-rule double. The hit by Grantham pushed Bundy across the dish and tied the game at seven. It also brought Sarraf in to relieve Lomax.
Sarraf caught E. Martinez looking at strike three and then got Bradley to swing at strike three to retire the Leopards with the score now tied, 7-7.
When the Mustangs came to bat in the bottom of the seventh, it appeared as if they were ready to seize the moment. And they did just that with a little help from the New Home defense.
Haney led off with a single to center and promptly stole second. Guess followed with a walk but was followed by an Abernathy strike out. Hunt was up next and hit a shot to third. The ball was fielded cleanly and the third baseman stepped on the bag for the second out. He then airmailed a throw to first trying for a double play.
The error allowed Guess to motor into third while Hunt made his way to second. Byrnes was up next and he also slapped a shot to third. Once again the ball was fielded cleanly, but this time there wasn’t a force at the third base bag.
Byrnes, who has never been described as fleet of foot, was hustling down the line and would have been out by several steps if the throw had been accurate. The throw was low, however, bounced in front of the first baseman and went underneath his glove.
Guess crossed the plate and when Byrnes was called safe at first, the Slocum Mustangs had won the game by a score of 8-7.
The win sends the Mustangs to the UIL Class 1A State Baseball Championship Game on Thursday, June 7. The game will be played at Dell Diamond in Round Rock with the first pitch scheduled for 9 a.m.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.