By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 21, 2018) — Next time Alvarado had better think twice before intentionally walking a batter to face Derek Gifford.
The Stephenville junior made the Indians pay with a walk-off single that ended a nine-inning District 8-4A affair Tuesday night at James T. Young baseball field, one the Yellow Jackets once appeared to have comfortably in hand.
They captured their first district win by a 10-9 count, but fitting for the way their 8-4A campaign has unfolded thus far, there was drama along the pathway to that final score.
Stephenville led 8-2 at the end of five innings, only to find itself trailing 9-8 with three outs of life remaining by the middle of the seventh. Alvarado scored four times in the top of the sixth and three in the seventh.
Alvarado walked to face Gifford in the ninth event though the short stop had already burned them with an RBI single to keep Stephenville alive in the bottom of the seventh.
His seventh-inning single was almost enough to get it done, but fortunately he had another base knock in the tank. The latter of those was a ground ball the first baseman elected to throw home, but Cade Dunavent beat the throw. Courtesy runner Kody Storrs advanced to second as pinch runner Trace Morrison tried to score the winning run. Storrs was safe, but at the plate Morrison was out to end the inning.
The bases were loaded because Dunavent was hit by a pitch, Kade Averhoff singled and was replaced on the base paths by Morrison, and Trevor Easter was hit by a pitch with Storrs running in his stead.
Mason Castleberry took over on the hill in the eighth for Stephenville, catching two Indian batters looking at strike three after a line out to Gifford, but Stephenville went in order in its half of the eighth, too.
Castleberry was just as effective in the final Alvarado at bat, ending the top of the ninth with a strikeout after a ground out to Gifford and a fly out to Dunavent in left.
Dunavent began the Jacket half of the inning with a fly out to center, but Gabe Moore reached on a four-pitch walk that prompted a pitching change by Alvarado.
The move to the bullpen didn’t help, as Moore took second on a wild pitch, leading to the Indians putting Easter on intentionally to set up a force across the infield.
But the force never came with Gifford lacing a line drive to right, getting enough on it for Moore to round third and score the winning run from second.
Stephenville scored in bunches to build its lead, crossing the plate three times in the second and four in the fourth with one in between in the third. Alvarado cut its deficit to 3-2 in the top of the third before the Jackets scored next five, only to see the Indians push them all the way past seven innings before Gifford’s winning hit.
Gifford was silent before the seventh and ninth inning hits, but clutch when it mattered most, going 2-for-5 with the biggest 2 RBI of the evening.
Averhoff posted the same numbers, but without the RBI. He is hitting .366 this season, second for the Jackets behind the .377 average of lead-off batter Gage Graham.
Daniel Luna started and once again pitched well enough to win if not for errors and unearned runs. Just two of the five runs he saw cross the plate were earned on three hits. He battled with his control, issuing five walks while striking out four.
Three hits and three walks allowed the Indians to score four earned runs against Caleb Smith over two innings before Castleberry worked two perfect frames to get the win.
It was the best outing of the year by Castleberry, who in three other appearances went between two and five innings and allowed multiple runs in each. It was the eighth appearance for Smith, who has surrendered more than four runs only once this season.
It was the fifth start by Luna, who despite a 2.86 earned run average has only one decision, a loss.
Stephenville visits preseason district-favorite Godley at 7 p.m. Friday and breaks from 8-4A action with a non-district trip to Decatur for a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.