Early baseball rallies to claim bi-district title with victories of 9-3 and 6-2

EASTLAND — Friday began with the Early Longhorns on the brink of elimination, but the District 6-3A runners-up instead turned the tables on the District 5-3A third seed Coahoma Bulldogs, earning a Region I-3A bi-district championship with victories of 9-3 and 6-2.

With the series victory, Early (18-12) advances to face District 7-3A champion Brock (24-3), which swept District 8-3A fourth seed Paradise 6-2 and 6-5 Friday, in the area round of the playoffs next weekend.

In the decisive third game, the Longhorns broke a 2-all tie by scoring four runs in the top of the sixth inning.

Early's sixth started with a Chase Keilers single, then C.J. Hanley was hit by a pitch and Jonathan Morales singled to load the bases. A fielder's choice by Ryan Hill retired Haley, but the sacks remained full. With one out, Devyn Burns' RBI single drove home Keilers with what would be the winning run. Mercer was then plunked by a pitch to drive in the fourth run, while Christian Alcorta followed with an RBI single to score Hill and Tristan Horton's RBI base hit knocked in Burns.

Coahoma (16-11), which won the series opener 5-4 in eight innings Thursday night at Abilene Christian University, grabbed a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the fourth as Gaige Hill's one-out, two-RBI single scored Fletcher Mashburn and Adam Clark, who reached on consecutive singles to begin the frame.

The Longhorns pulled even at 2 in the top of the fifth as Burns led off with a single, stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch before Mercer's RBI single shaved the deficit to 2-1. Two wild pitches moved Mercer to third base, where he came home on an RBI single by Alcorta.

Hanley went the distance on the mound to notch the victory, yielding two earned runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.

At the plate, the Longhorns collected 10 hits — two each by Mercer, Alcorta and Burns, who combined for five RBIs, along with one apiece from Horton, Keilers, Morales and Trace Evans.

Early evened the series in Friday's first contest, riding a seven-run outburst in the top of the first inning to the victory.

Mercer began the game with a walk, Alcorta followed with a single and Horton knocked in Mercer with a base hit. Evans walked ahead of a one-out, two-RBI single by Hanley that plated Brandon Lombrano, running for Alcorta, and Horton. Morales delivered an RBI single that brought home Evans for a 4-0 lead.

Hill reached on an error which allowed Hanley to score, then Morales came home on the back end of a double steal with Hill. Leading 6-0, Early tacked on one more run in the first when Hill scored on an RBI single by Mercer.

The Longhorns added two more runs in the third as Hanley walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Morales' RBI single to center field. Later in the frame, an RBI ground out by Mercer brought home Morales from third base.

Coahoma mustered single runs in the second, third and fourth innings, but never threatened.

Alcorta tossed a complete-game six-hitter to collect the win, yielding three runs — two earned — with eight strikeouts and two walks.