Tigers Down Jaguars, 3-1
By Will Johnson
ROUND ROCK – This year – for the first time in school history – the Kennard Tigers advanced to the Class 1A State Semifinals in baseball. On Wednesday morning, June 9, they made history once again as they defeated the Hubbard Jaguars by a final score of 3-1 to advance to the Class 1A State Championship game.
The game was close throughout as both Kennard’s Dylan Cole and Hubbard’s Shelby Noppeney were throwing darts from the mound. A strange sequence of events in the bottom of the sixth, however, allowed the Tigers to score twice in the frame, take the lead and then hold on for the victory.
The Tigers’ Cole went to the bump to start the game and had a fairly easy inning. He retired lead-off hitter Justin Johnson on a pop-up to second and then got Blaine Cornelius to ground out. Cole’s counterpart – Noppeney – drew a walk, but as he led off first, Noppeney strayed a little too far off the bag and Cole picked him off to end the Hubbard half of the inning.
Jaden Kulms led off for Kennard in the bottom of the inning, but hit a pop-up back to Noppeney for the first out. Keyton Lumbreraz was up next and on a 2-2 pitch, he tripled down the right field line. An error on the play allowed him to keep running and cross the plate with the first run of the game.
Kennard had a chance to tack on some more after the Lumbreraz inside-the-park homerun, but came up short. Cole followed in the order and fanned on four pitches. Ryan Pilkington was up next, drew a walk and then stole second base.
The next batter was Jacob Catoe and he also drew a walk. With Caleb Alfred at the plate, a wild pitch moved Pilkington to third and Catoe to second. Alfred battled Noppeney for nine pitches, but on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, the Hubbard pitcher blew one past Alfred to end the inning.
With a 1-0 lead, Cole dominated the Jaguars batting order in the second. He retired Sebastian Olvera on a 4-3 force at first and then struck out River Milne, along with MJ Ryman, to bring the Tigers in from the field.
The Kennard batting order didn’t fare much better in the bottom half of the inning. Noppeney seemed to find his groove after the opening frame as he caught both Cade Collinsworth and Adrian Montero looking at strike three. Elijah Dowdy followed in the batting order but grounded out to second to end the inning.
By the top of the third, the game had settled into a pitcher’s duel. Both Cole and Noppeney were dialed in as they continued to baffle the hitters. Cole worked another 1-2-3 inning as he forced Landyn Garcia to ground out to second, caught Joseph Green swinging at strike three and then got Caleb Poston to hit into a 6-3 force.
Noppeney continued to match Cole pitch-for-pitch. In the bottom of the third, he coaxed Kulms to fly out to right center on a full count and then got Lumbreraz to ground out to short on a one-pitch at-bat. Cole was up next but fanned on a 2-2 count to send the game into the fourth inning with Kennard still leading 1-0.
In the top of the fourth, the Jaguars tied it up. Johnson led off with a K while Cornelius popped up to first for two quick outs. It looked like Cole might have another easy inning but then Noppeney drew a four-pitch walk.
Knowing the first time Noppeney reached base he was picked-off, the Tigers went to the well again. This time, however, a muffed throw to first allowed the Hubbard pitcher to advance to second. Olvera was up next and on a 2-2 pitch, he hit a shot deep in the hole at short. Kulms ranged to his right at shortstop and made a great play to field the ball.
Noppeney was running on the pitch and when Kulms was unable to put enough on his throw to catch Olvera, who hustled down the line at first, Noppeney scampered home to tie the game at one. A single from Milne moved the runner to second as Jackson Wallin came in as a pinch runner for Olvera. Despite the setback, Cole re-grouped to force Ryman to ground out to third to bring the top of the fourth to a close with the score now 1-1.
The momentum at Dell Diamond seemed to have shifted sides and Noppeney seemed to feed off of it. He got Pilkington to tap back to the mound and then caught Catoe looking on a three-pitch strikeout. Alfred didn’t fare any better as he also struck out on three pitches to end the frame.
As the game moved into the fifth, the tension started to build as one team was three innings from the state championship game while the other was three innings from going home.
Cole was back on the mound and he struck out Garcia to lead off the top of the inning. Green drew a walk but when he tried to steal second, Catoe jumped up from his catcher’s position and threw a frozen rope down to second where Kulms snuffed out the baserunner. Cole then retired Poston on a routine grounder to second to retire the side in order, once again.
The Tigers threatened to break the game open in their half of the fifth but couldn’t manage to kick in the door. Collinsworth led off the Kennard at-bat with fly ball out to shallow center. Montero, however, was up next and slapped a shot that went right through the legs of the Hubbard shortstop for an error.
Dowdy followed Montero in the order and hit a slow roller to first. The Jaguars’ first baseman fielded the ball and threw to second. His throw, however, was wide of the base, which allowed Montero to slide in safely to second.
That was as close as Kennard would get in the fifth, however, as Kulms popped up to second and Lumbreraz struck out to end the inning.
The sixth inning saw the momentum jump back across the stadium to the Kennard side. With Cole still on the mound, Johnson led off the Hubbard half of the inning with a single to left. Cornelius was up next and he tapped back to Cole, who turned and fired to Kulms at second for the force out.
On the play, however, Johnson blasted the Kennard shortstop and the Jaguars were assessed the second out of the inning for interference. That would come back to haunt Hubbard as Noppeney was up next and lined a single into left. With Olvera now at the plate, Noppeney stole second.
Cole jumped ahead on the count, but Olvera battled back to make the count 3-2. Four consecutive foul balls led to the 11th pitch of the at-bat and just when he needed it most, Cole reared back and blew a pitch by Olvera to end the Hubbard threat.
When the Tigers came in from the field, things began to get a little strange. Cole led off for Kennard and slapped a double into the gap in left center. Pilkington was up next and fanned on four pitches. That brought Catoe to the dish and on the second pitch of his at-bat, Cole broke for third.
Hubbard’s catcher – Cornelius – leaped up from behind the plate and attempted to throw down to third. The throw from Cornelius, however, hit Catoe right under the brim of his batting helmet and bounced away. Cole trotted into third while Catoe went down to the ground.
Jaguars’ Head Coach Jordan Grimm sprinted from the dugout to argue the call, claiming interference on Catoe. Grimm loudly voiced his opinion, but the play stood as called and the game moved on. Catoe was able to gather himself and drew an intentional walk.
Alfred, who was 0-2 on the game with two strikeouts, was up next. With a 1-0 count, Catoe stole second. Two pitches later, Alfred seized the moment as he lined a single into right field. Cole made his way across the plate and Catoe, who was running on contact, motored around third and crossed home in a dead sprint to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead.
Collinsworth was up next and reached on an infield single, but just before he crossed the bag at first, Noppeney fielded the ball and fired towards first. The throw hit Collinsworth and bounded away allowing Alfred to move over to third.
That was as far as would get, however, as Montero struck out while Dowdy flew out to center to end the inning.
With only three outs remaining between Kennard and a trip to the State Championship Game, Cole went to work. He got Milne to ground out to short and then fanned pinch hitter Colten Bailes for the second out of the inning.
With Cole approaching the 115-pitch count limit, Coach Corey Carden went to the mound and brought in Kulms to close out the game, moving Cole to short. Kulms didn’t waste any time as he blew two quick strikes by Garcia and then got him to ground into a 4-3 force to end the game, giving Kennard the 3-1 win and sending the Tigers to the Class 1A State Championship Game.
Cole picked up the win as he went 6.2 innings, giving up one run on four hits. He also struck out seven and walked three. Kulms was credited with the save in 0.1 innings of relief.
Noppeney was saddled with the loss as he went seven innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits. He also struck out 10 and walked three.
At the plate, the Tigers were led by Caleb Alfred who was 1-3 with two RBI. Cole and Lumbreraz were both 1-3 with a run scored. Collinsworth was also 1-3 on the day.
The Jaguars were led by Noppeney who was 1-1, with a run scored and two walks. Johnson, Milne and Olvera were all 1-3.
The Tigers will now face the Fayetteville Lions in the Class 1A State Championship Game following the Lions 4-0 shutout win over the Nazareth Swifts. The two teams will play at Dell Diamond in Round Rock on Thursday, June 10 (tomorrow) at 9 am.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.