BROWNWOOD (April 29, 2015) — The log-jammed 6-4A baseball race was one strike from total chaos.
Down to its final strike in an effort to avoid a four-way tie for second place and a rarely-needed tournament-style district playoff, Stephenville rallied for a 6-4 win and sole possession of second, eliminating rival Brownwood at Morris Southall Field Wednesday night.
Stephenville will face Burkburnett, the third-place finisher in 5-4A, in the bi-district round of the Region I-4A playoffs next week. Plans for the match-up have not been set.
Facing a 1-2 count with two outs in the top of the seventh and his team trailing 3-2, Sam Weber lined a single to left field, scoring Brock Morrison from second to tie the game. Cole Harmon followed with a walk before Josh Bulla was hit by a pitch for the second time of the night to load the bases.
Kaegun Williams was also hit by a pitch to bring in a run and bring Josh Olivan to the plate. All Olivan did was deliver the biggest hit of Stephenville’s season – a 2-run single to left that ultimately stood as the game winner.
Josh Bulla struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh, working around a walk and an RBI triple to finish off his complete game effort with nine strikeouts. Bulla also reached three times from the dish, drawing a walk in addition to being hit twice.
The outlook was bleak for Stephenville after Brownwood scored three times for a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth. A double and a walk began the inning, and a throwing error brought in a run and put base runners at second and third before a 2-run single to right gave the Lions their only lead.
Stephenville, which snapped a three-game losing streak to finish 4-4 in 6-4A play, scored two runs in the top of the first, and it was all the scoring until Brownwood finally broke through in the fifth. Ben Martin led off the game with a nine-pitch at bat that ended with a sharp infield single. Alex Jimenez drew a walk, and after consecutive strikeouts, Weber walked to load the bases.
Cole Harmon had the first big hit of the game, a single down the line in left to bring Martin and Weber home for the early lead.
Abilene Wylie (8-0) won the 6-4A title, and with Stephenville securing second, Graham (2-6) and Mineral Wells (2-6) are left facing a seeding playoff for the No. 3 and No. 4 four spots. Brownwood (2-6) finished the season with six straight losses, five of them in district games.
Stephenville avoided a dilemma with the win. Vanderbilt signee and First-Pitch All-American pitcher Maddux Conger did not play Wednesday and would have been unavailable if a tie-breaking tournament would have been required. He was hit by a pitch on the thumb of his throwing (right) hand at Graham Saturday, and though x-rays reportedly found no broken bones, he is currently wearing a brace in hopes of returning in the playoffs.
But Bulla was all the Jackets needed on the hill Wednesday. The senior southpaw pitched into an around-the-horn double play to get out of the first, and had at least one strikeout in each of the last six innings. He surrendered just four total hits, and navigated effectively around five walks.
Stephenville is headed to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. The Jackets reached the Region I final in 2013 and were eliminated in the regional quarterfinals last season.