PAYBACK: First-place Belton answers Temple rally with its own, wins 11-5; Wildcats drop fifth in row
COMING THROUGH: Belton junior left fielder Aaron Bain went 2-for-2 with a walk, a run batted in and two runs to help the Tigers defeat rival Temple 11-5 on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Field. First-place Belton (20-3-1) won its seventh straight District 12-6A game and avenged its only league loss, 2-0 at the Wildcats' Hallford Field on March 26. The 24th-ranked Tigers have clinched a Class 6A playoff berth and can secure at least a share of the 12-6A championship with their next win. Temple (15-11, 5-6) trailed 4-0 early, then scored all five of its runs in the fourth inning to seize a 5-4 lead before Belton scored the game's final seven runs. The Wildcats lost their fifth consecutive game and are tied for fifth place in 12-6A with Bryan, one game behind fourth-place Copperas Cove. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – After Belton won its first three games in District 12-6A baseball competition, Temple was responsible was dealing the Tigers their first league loss, 2-0 in a rivalry showdown at the Wildcats' Hallford Field on March 26.
The feeling of watching Temple's players celebrate an exciting victory stuck in the minds of Belton's players, who entered Saturday's rematch at Tiger Field having won six consecutive district games since that lone defeat.
Payback against the slumping Wildcats is what the district-leading and playoff-bound Tigers wanted, and that's what they got.
Temple overcame an early 4-0 deficit that included Scott Gurnett's leadoff home run by erupting for a five-run fourth to seize a 5-4 lead against undefeated ace Brady Shadrick, but Belton answered with three runs in the fourth against Isaiah Fach and added four late runs as the Tigers pulled away to beat the Wildcats 11-5 on a cool, windy and rainy afternoon.
Belton junior left fielder Aaron Bain said his team – which completed a 3-0 week – was motivated to get revenge against Temple, which absorbed its fifth straight loss following a 5-1 district start.
“It was a combination of the way we saw how much it meant to them to beat us and we didn't want to give them that satisfaction to them again, and then we firmly believe that we were the better team today and it showed on the scoreboard,” said Bain, who went 2-for-2 with a walk and a sacrifice fly and scored two runs. “With the exception of a few walks and maybe a few miscommunication plays, we put it all together. We have a really good team and we can go a long ways.”
In a crucial 12-6A battle Friday night, Belton won 9-6 at second-place Harker Heights to expand its district lead to two games. By beating Temple to split the season series as Shadrick improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in district, the Tigers (20-3-1 overall, 10-1 in 12-6A) moved one step closer to capturing the district championship.
“We were worried about this one and then we're worried about Tuesday (at third-place Killeen Ellison). We don't look ahead. That's what's great about this team. We focus on what's at hand,” said Belton fifth-year head coach Mark Krueger, whose Tigers are ranked No. 24 in the state in Class 6A in the Diamond Pro/Texas High School Baseball poll. “We knew who we had Tuesday (in a 14-0, five-inning home win over Bryan), and then we won a big one last night.
“I told the kids, 'This is a very good example of the playoffs, because you have to play on, say, a Friday night and then come back and play again on Saturday afternoon. So it was a good test for us.”
Meanwhile, Temple third-year head coach Dallas Robertson is trying to keep the Wildcats' spirits up and prevent their once-promising season from spiraling out of control.
Temple was 5-1 in 12-6A and tied for first place with Belton and Harker Heights after beating Killeen 1-0 on April 2, but since then the Wildcats (15-11, 5-6) have lost five consecutive games to fall out of a playoff position. They're tied with Bryan for fifth.
“You're riding high like that and everybody's feeling good about themselves, then we take a loss (1-0 in eight innings at Cove) and then we take another loss (4-3 in nine innings at Bryan). Sometimes what happens is if you're not on guard, you can let yourself doubt yourself,” Robertson said. “This is baseball. This is what happens. It's hard. It's very humbling. Our kids, I don't think they needed to be humbled, but it just does it to you. It's a hard game.”
Nonetheless, Robertson believes that Temple has what it takes to reverse its fortunes and that the Wildcats still have a great opportunity to grab at least the district's fourth playoff berth if they earn consecutive wins against Killeen Shoemaker, Killeen and fourth-place Copperas Cove (6-5 in district), whose Bulldawgs lost to Ellison on Saturday and lead Temple and Bryan by one game.
“It's just kind of unfortunate what (situation) we're in right now, but our guys are continuing to fight, no doubt about it. They believe in each other and they believe in themselves,” Robertson said. “What would be a good story is us coming out of this and getting into the playoffs. That's what we would all love to see.”
Shadrick was working on three days of rest after he needed only 67 pitches to throw a five-hitting no-hitter against Bryan on Tuesday, and the athletic senior right-hander retired Temple in order in the top of the first inning.
PLATE PARTY: After hitting a home run to left field on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning against Temple, Belton leadoff batter Scott Gurnett (left) is greeted by fellow Tigers senior and East Texas Baptist commitment Ben Jones. Gurnett drove in two runs and scored two runs as District 12-6A leader Belton (20-3-1, 10-1) recorded an 11-5 win over rival Temple (15-11, 5-6) at Tiger Field. Jones hit an RBI double in the fourth, one of the Tigers' 11 hits. Gurnett was ejected in the fifth inning after arguing a third-strike call. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Belton then wasted no time in grabbing the lead. With a stiff breeze blowing out to left field, Gurnett did his best George Springer impersonation by rocking Fach's first-pitch fastball over the wall in left field for his first home run this season and a 1-0 Tigers advantage.
“Credit to Scotty. We told him going up, 'Look for one pitch, one spot,' and obviously he did,” Krueger said about his sturdy senior second baseman. “That set the tone for the game and it was great to get ahead. That's been our nemesis the whole time, is it seems like you look up in the fourth or fifth inning and it's 0-0 and nobody can punch across a run. So getting a run in the first inning, man, that's big.”
Fach, a burly senior right-hander who on Friday committed to Lufkin's Angelina College, proceeded to walk Caleb Alexander and Jacob Estrada but escaped the first without further damage when Mary Hardin-Baylor commitment Keagan Wolfe flew out sharply to left field.
Consecutive singles to left by Aaron Wagaman – who committed to Temple College on Friday – and Fach gave Temple runners at the corners with no outs in the second, then Wagaman stayed at third on Naeten Mitchell's groundout while courtesy runner Kobe Smith advanced to second.
But ensuing mistakes on the bases doused the Wildcats' threat. When Issac Ramos showed bunt but didn't put one down, Wagaman already had strayed too far off third and eventually was tagged out in a rundown, and on the same play Smith ventured too far off second and Belton alertly threw him out as he tried to scurry back to the bag.
“One thing that sticks out a lot is our ability to work together on defense and make up stuff as we go. You saw that today with the double rundown. Everybody's just running over and filling in,” Bain said. “I'm a big fan of the chemistry, the way we work together like a band of brothers almost.”
Belton prolonged its momentum when Shadrick and Bain began the second by ripping singles to left. No. 9 batter Josh Westbrook then laid down a bunt that Fach (2-2) fielded, but his errant throw sailed well over the head of first baseman Wagaman, scoring courtesy runner Jason Bonnett and sending Bain to third and Westbrook to second.
"Barreling one up is the goal anywhere in the lineup," said Bain, who bats eighth. "Especially when we get runners on base, it's just putting the ball in play and making the defense play, because if you put the ball hard on the ground, they're bound to make an error, they're bound to throw one away."
Gurnett's flyout to left-center drove in Bain for a 3-0 lead. Ben Jones popped up, but Alexander delivered a two-out RBI single to make it 4-0 and provide substantial support for Shadrick, who faced the minimum nine batters through three innings.
“It's huge,” Bain said about the consistency and excellence of Shadrick's pitching this season. “He very seldom walks guys. He's really composed out there when calls don't go his way. He stays composed."
FACH FIRES: Temple senior Isaiah Fach delivers a pitch to Belton senior Keagan Wolfe during the Tigers' 11-5 win over the Wildcats in Saturday afternoon's District 12-6A rivalry game at Tiger Field. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
However, after Fach rebounded by recording two strikeouts in his perfect third inning, Temple made its major move against Shadrick in the fourth. Johnny Donoso ripped a leadoff single to center and Bryan Williams – who pitched a shutout against Belton three weeks ago – followed with a single to left. Xavier Padilla then lined an RBI double down the line in right to get the Wildcats on the board at 4-1.
Wagaman then sliced an RBI single – Temple's fourth consecutive hit – through the right side to make it 4-2 before Fach walked to load the bases with no outs. Catcher Cooper Babcock's passed ball allowed Padilla to raced home for a 4-3 game, then Mitchell's infield single drove in Wagaman to create a 4-4 deadlock. And with two outs, designated hitter Chance Guillen chopped a hard single over the head of third baseman Westbrook to bring in courtesy runner Smith and give the Wildcats their first and only lead at 5-4.
“We haven't been hitting the ball too well, and that's been kind of what's gotten us into this situation. Last night I saw us hit the ball a whole lot better than we had in the last two weeks,” said Robertson, whose Wildcats lost 6-3 at surging Ellison on Friday. “Today, it was a whole lot more confidence at the plate by everybody, so that was a bright moment for us there. Going into these last three games, we're going to need the bats coming alive.”
Said Krueger about Temple's sudden offensive outburst in the fourth: “I thought we were making great pitches. They were finding the holes. It wasn't anything that we did defensively or that we changed anything pitching. It was just them stringing it together. Any time we play those guys, you can wipe the records out, because they're going to put up a good fight.”
ACE DEALS: Belton senior right-hander Brady Shadrick delivers a pitch to Temple leadoff batter Johnny Donoso during the first inning of the Tigers' 11-5 win over the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Field. After throwing a five-inning no-hitter Tuesday against Bryan, Shadrick pitched four innings against Temple – allowing five runs in the fourth – and earned the victory to improve to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in district play for the first-place Tigers. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
After permitting six hits in the fourth, Shadrick struck out Matt McDonald swinging with a breaking ball before senior shortstop Jones made a diving stop of Donoso's hard grounder in the hole and fired to Gurnett – both Belton middle infielders are committed to East Texas Baptist – for the force to get Shadrick out of his final inning. After throwing 60 pitches and allowing eight hits and five runs, he moved to right field in the fifth.
Bain said Gurnett's leadoff homer and Belton's early 4-0 lead might have given the Tigers a false sense of security against the rival Wildcats.
“After that, it was like, 'We're going to run-rule these guys.' And then of course they came back and put a fight up, so we had to scratch back with them,” Bain said. “They clawed every way they could. We just came out on top today.”
Temple's lead was short-lived, thanks to Belton's three-run, go-ahead response in its half of the fourth. Bain led off with an infield single and went to second on Westbrook's sacrifice bunt before Gurnett walked. Jones then pummeled an RBI double to left-center for a 5-5 tie.
Alexander ripped a run-scoring single to left to put the Tigers back in the lead for good at 6-5, then they made it 7-5 when Fach threw a pitch to the backstop and he couldn't catch the ensuing short throw from catcher Williams near the plate, allowing Jones to score on the wild pitch before Padilla replaced Fach on the mound.
“It was awesome, and that's a credit to our team,” Krueger said about Belton's comeback. “We've been doing that all year. We've never been out of a game to where we felt as a team that we're done. I mean, they come back every time. They keep getting one or two runs every time and all of a sudden you look at the scoreboard and you've got the lead back.”
HE'S IN THERE: Belton's Ben Jones scores with a headfirst slide as Temple catcher Bryan Williams watches pitcher Isaiah Fach cut off the throw on Caleb Alexander's fourth-inning single during the Tigers' 11-5 win over the Wildcats in District 12-6A action Saturday at Tiger Field. Alexander hit two RBI singles and reached base in all four plate appearances. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Said Robertson about the pitching of Fach, who's normally Temple's slugging first baseman but was pressed into mound duty because of the three-game week: “Belton has very, very good hitters, and you can't get behind in the count to these guys. You've got to get your off-speed (pitches) in there, and that's what he lacked a little bit.”
The left-handed Estrada took over on the mound for Belton in the fifth and worked around walks to Williams and Fach to dodge the jam on Mitchell's flyout to right. Bain took away a potential extra-base hit from Padilla in the inning, making a difficult catch near the wall.
Wolfe drew a leadoff walk in the fifth and scored on Westbrook's one-out RBI single past third base. Padilla's pitch then hit the right-handed Gurnett in the left elbow, but the plate umpire called Gurnett back to the box, ruling that he leaned out over the strike zone.
Gurnett and Belton's vocal fans were displeased with that call, then Gurnett struck out looking on a full-count fastball that Gurnett thought was too high. When the senior leadoff batter expressed his disagreement by making a gesture toward the umpire, the umpire immediately ejected Gurnett from the game.
“Well, you'll see him out there getting his running in,” Krueger said a few minutes before Gurnett began running alone deep in the outfield from foul line to foul line as a form of coach-mandated discipline. “We've got to have better composure at the plate, and on the mound. I'm really disappointed in that part of our game today.”
Estrada walked Ramos to lead off Temple's sixth, but a potential rally fizzled when Guillen struck out and was called for interfering with the catcher as Ramos tried to steal second, making Ramos automatically out.
The Tigers then produced three insurance runs in the sixth, as new reliever Mitchell hit Alexander and Babcock singled to left before Estrada slugged an RBI double to left-center for a 9-5 lead. Shadrick's RBI single made it 10-5, then Bain brought in Belton's final run with a sacrifice fly to left-center.
Estrada walked Donoso and Williams to begin Temple's seventh, but on appeal the field umpire ruled that Donoso left second base too early while tagging up on Padilla's flyout to deep right-center, making it a double play. A force out on Wagaman's grounder completed Estrada's three hitless innings and second save.
“It was good for Jacob to go out there and do that,” Krueger said. “We're trying to put our kids in tough situations, because we know come playoff time, when we reach that, that there's going to be instances like that where you have to perform. I thought he did a great job.”
On Temple's side, Robertson liked the fighting spirit that the Wildcats exhibited while coming back from their early four-run deficit against district-leading Belton. The coach knows they'll need to do more of that and clean up their mistakes as they aim to end their late-season slide and make a final push for a playoff berth.
“We knew coming in today that it was going to hard. I knew it was going to be an interesting game, a close one,” Robertson said. “I didn't like how it ended, letting in those runs.”
Temple hosts last-place Shoemaker at 7 p.m. Tuesday, while Belton can clinch at least a share of the 12-6A championship on Tuesday when it travels to play third-place Ellison (7-4 in district) at 7:30 p.m.
HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL
No. 24 Belton 11, Temple 5
Temple 000 500 0 – 5 8 1
Belton 130 313 X – 11 11 0
Temple: Isaiah Fach, Xavier Padilla (4), Naeten Mitchell (6) and Bryan Williams. Belton: Brady Shadrick, Jacob Estrada (5) and Cooper Babcock. W – Shadrick (9-0). L – Fach (2-2). Sv – Estrada (2). HR: Belton: Scott Gurnett (1). 2B – Temple: Padilla; Belton: Ben Jones, Estrada.
Highlights – Temple: Aaron Wagaman 2-for-4, run batted in, run; Fach 1-for-1, two walks; Williams 1-for-2, two walks; Padilla RBI double, run; Mitchell RBI single; Chance Guillen RBI single; Johnny Donoso 1-for-3, walk, run; Belton: Seventh consecutive district win; Gurnett leadoff home run, two RBI, two runs; Caleb Alexander 2-for-2, two RBI singles, walk, hit by pitch, run; Aaron Bain 2-for-2, walk, RBI, two runs; Shadrick 2-for-3, RBI, four innings pitched, 6-0 record in district; Jones RBI double, run; Estrada RBI double, three shutout innings pitched.
Records – Temple 15-11 overall, 5-6 in District 12-6A; Belton 20-3-1, 10-1.
Notes – Teams split season series 1-1; Temple hosts Killeen Shoemaker at 7 p.m. Tuesday; Belton plays at Killeen Ellison at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.