By Cassandra Swartz:
In the Buchholz and Lincoln regular season matchup, the advantage went to the Trojans, and the Class 6A-District 2 semifinal game looked to be headed toward the same outcome. Until the sixth inning that is, when the Bobcats rallied to tie and then take the lead to secure their place in the district championship game.
“I’m elated for our guys,” said Bobcats’ head coach Ron Brooks. “They work hard every day, give a lot of effort...and it was a real program victory.”
Caden Kresak got the start on the bump for the Cats, and some shaky defense allowed the Trojans to take an early lead. Leadoff hitter Jayden Burns reached on an error and moved to third on a double by Caden Slappey.
A sac grounder from Trevor McCulley scored Burns to give Lincoln the 1-0 lead. Trojans starting pitcher Chase Scott came out of the gate hot and sent the Bobcats back to the dugout in order, two via strikeouts. Both teams put a runner on base in the second and third innings, but neither wasable to bring them home.
With two outs in the fourth, the Trojans were able to double their lead. Andrew Wallace started the sequence with a single, followed by Adam Parzych reaching as a hit batter. Omar Aly drove a double that brought Wallace home for the second run. A walk drawn by Joshua Kittrell loaded the bases, but the Bobcats were able to get out of the situation without any further damage.
Despite giving up a single and a walk in the home half of the fourth, Scott retained his composure and notched three more strikeouts to keep Buchholz off the board. After a quiet fifth inning, the Trojans were looking to add insurance runs in the sixth. With two runners on after singles and two outs, Kresak was replaced on the mound by Jackson Peters who induced a groundout to send the Bobcats to the plate.
Noah Hayse and Dario Astudillo began the rally with a single and walk to start the half inning, which ended Scott’s night. He finished with nine strikeouts and three hits in his scoreless outing and was relieved by Tristan Harley. Harley was welcomed to the game by Cole Smithers who drove a single that scored Nick Taylor, the courtesy runner for Hayse, to put the Bobcats in the scorebook.
After a strikeout for the first out, Kyle Brewer drew a walk to load the bases. Harley induced a grounder from Jackson Greene and the Trojans forced Astudillo out at the plate before turning to try and catch Greene at first.
The throw went off the mark and the first Lincoln error of the night proved to be a costly one as Smithers raced home to tie the game at two apiece. With two outs and the score knotted, Peters came up to the plate for his first time on the night.
The senior made the most of his at-bat by lining a single into left field that went just beyond the outstretched glove of the diving third baseman. Both Brewer and Greene sprinted home to make it 4-2 and give the Bobcats their first lead of the game.
The Trojans escaped the inning after a force out at second but were now facing a deficit with only three outs left to recover. Buchholz recorded the first out on a fly ball to left, but then let a runner reach on an error. The Cats made the comeback complete on a stellar 6-4-3 double play to send them to the district championship game.
In a game that lacked offense for the winning team until late, Smithers came through in crucial moments by driving in the first Buchholz run and then scoring the tying run on heads-up baserunning.
“It means everything to me to be able to go play [for] a district title with [my team],” he said. “[Winning] will take some good offensive swings...and just putting the ball in play, running hard and making routine plays.”
Peters may have entered the game late, but his presence seemed to ignite the rally. He got the final four outs for the Bobcats, recorded the win on the mound and drove in the go-ahead runs in his only plate appearance of the night.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the win,” said the senior. “It means the most to me because I haven’t been to the district championship as a player.”
Buchholz will travel to Chiles on Friday to play for the title after the No. 1 seed Timberwolves won their semifinal game 7-3.
Coach Brooks summed up what it will take for the Bobcats to claim the district –“A lot of guts, a lot of effort, a lot of pride –that’s what the game is going to come down to.”