EARLY — The Early Longhorns overcame a disappointing 5-4, extra-inning loss in the opener of a Region I-3A bi-district series last weekend to rally for victories of 9-3 and 6-2 to oust the Coahoma Bulldogs from the postseason.
This weekend, the Longhorns will attempt to secure a berth in the regional quarterfinals, but the Brock Eagles stand in the way.
The Region I-3A area playoff series between District 6-3A runner-up Early (18-12) and District 7-3A champion Brock (24-3) will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday, if needed, at Eastland — site of the Longhorns’ two playoff victories last weekend.
“If we play well, this is a team we match up with, but we have to play good baseball,” said Early first-year coach Todd Hatton.
The Longhorns pitching staff shouldered the load against Coahoma, allowing just 10 runs — three earned — and only five in the final two games. Tristan Horton pitched the maximum 110 pitches for a series in Game 1, allowing five runs — one earned — on four hits with 12 strikeouts and one walk. In Game 2, Christian Alcorta went the distance, yielding three runs — two earned — on six hits with eight strikeouts and a pair of walks. The finale saw C.J. Hanley hurl a five-hitter, giving up two runs with seven strikeouts and one walk.
“All three of our starters went deep, kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win,” Hatton said. “Tristan threw well in Game 1, Christian came on for the second game and got the win and then with everything on the line, C.J. stepped up and did a great job for us in Game 3.
“The second and third games we played a little better defense. We made some mistakes in the first game and they probably shouldn’t have scored more than a run or two the way we pitched. Our pitchers really did their jobs and the defense stepped in the Games 2 and 3. They all worked together.”
Offensively, Early overcame a four-run deficit in the first game, and a two-run deficit in the last, but the momentum of the series shifted during the top of the first inning of Game 2, where the Longhorns struck for seven runs.
Leadoff batter Kyler Mercer led the charge over the weekend with four hits and three RBIs while other key contributors included Alcorta, Hanley and Jonathan Morales with two hits and a pair of RBIs, along with Horton with one hit and an RBI.
“I thought all three games we put the ball in play well,” Hatton said. “There were some chances to score where we didn’t get runners in. In Game 1 we saw their better pitcher. In Games 2 and 3 we were able to string hits together and put a little pressure on them and they made mistakes. That’s the key, hitting the ball consistently and putting pressure on the other team.”
Brock, meanwhile, swept District 8-3A fourth seed Paradise, 6-5 and 6-2, last weekend.
In the 6-2 series opener, Brock led 2-1 until breaking the game open with a four-run bottom of the sixth inning. Noah Nye tripled and drove in two runs, while Cole Lighfoot and Bryce Nye added two singles and an RBI.
On the mound, Jase Lopez picked up the win after tossing 6.2 innings of four-hit ball with 10 strikeouts and a pair of walks.
The one-run decision in Game 2 was the result of a furious Paradise rally in its final at-bat after the Eagles raced out to a six-run advantage. Lopez and Jackson Hardison both finished with two hits and an RBI, while Lightfoot, and Noah Nye and Christian Stites also tallied two hits apiece. Trent Patino chipped in a hit and an RBI as well.
Stites got the win on the mound, working 6.1 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Prior to the seventh inning, Stites surrendered just four hits, while Paradise collected four hits in the seventh inning.
“Brock’s a solid team and they play very good defense,” Hatton said. “Their No. 1 pitcher throws about 80 to 83 mph and they play good defense behind them. We’ll have to put the ball in play and create things. Their hitting is solid but they play a little more small ball and manufacture runs. If we can play good defense we’ll have a chance to be in it and a chance to win it.”
The series winner will advance to face either District 8-3A champion Jacksboro or District 5-3A runner-up Jim Ned in the regional quarterfinals next weekend.