By BRAD KEITH
GRAFORD – Pitching and defense stole the show while Stephenville (16-16) and Decatur (23-9) split the first two games of their Region I-4A area-round playoff series, so why should the rubber match be any different.
It was more strong pitching and defense on Saturday at Graford High School, with Decatur overcoming an early 1-0 deficit to top Stephenville 2-1 and advance to the Region I-4A quarterfinals.
A.J. Johnson had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the fifth for Decatur, a single up the middle to score Tyler Ticknor, who was 8-for-12 from the plate in the series. Ticknor reached on an infield single, took second on a sacrifice bunt and stole third to set up the RBI single by Johnson.
Stephenville got the tying run to third in the top of the seventh. Seth Heupel reached on an infield single and moved to second on a sac bunt by Sam Weber.
Decatur brought ace Bryson Elder – the game one starter – in for freshman Wilson Hicks, a southpaw who made up for a late-inning loss in relief in game two by pitching 6-1/3 strong innings in game three.
Elder got the second out on a ground ball that moved Heupel to third before a fly out to center ended the game.
Stephenville, which finished third in District 6-4A, stayed alive with a 2-1 win in game two, scoring both runs on a double to the wall by Bradley Morrison in the bottom of the sixth Friday night. Decatur, the district champ in 7-4A, won 4-3 in eight innings in game one on Thursday.
Morrison came back to pitch five strong innings Saturday before sophomore Easton Jones fired a perfect inning of relief work.
Decatur tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the first when Stephenville turned a nifty 5-4-3 double play from Harmon at third to Weber at second and on to Caleb Gibbons at first. But Gibbons made an error when he spiked the ball to the turf to celebrate what he thought was the third out. It was just the second out, and a Decatur runner scooted across home from third.
Stephenville’s only run came in the top of the first when Morrison blooped an RBI single to center. Harmon had reached on a walk and moved into scoring position on a single by Gibbons.
Stephenville turned two double plays on the day with a 6-4-3 ending the bottom of the third. Freshman short stop Derek Gifford moved to his right and made a nifty scoop on a sharply hit grounder straight up the middle. He flipped to Weber for one who went to Gibbons for two. It was the fourth double play of the series started by Gifford and the sixth of the series for Stephenville. Decatur also turned three.
Decatur gets Godley or Mineral Wells in the regional quarterfinals. Godley won game one Friday night and game two was still in progress at the time of this writing Saturday afternoon.