EARLY — The host Early Vipers reeled off three consecutive victories in the elimination bracket to reach Friday's semifinals of the TTAB District 12U Open Base District Tournament, and held a four-run advantage over the Stephenville Royals heading into the bottom of the sixth and final inning.
There, however, the Stephenville offense roared to life for a 9-8 victory, scoring five runs as the first seven batters reached base and Early did not record an out during the inning.
Early had doubled up Stephenville through the first 5½ innings, carrying an 8-4 advantage in the final frame.
Stephenville started the sixth with a single to right field by Darius Steed, then Tate Maruska launched the Royals' second two-run home run of the game over the left field fence, firmly snatching the momentum away from the Vipers.
Tyler Hicks then drew a walk and Luke Heller reached on an infield single, coupled with an error, which allowed Hicks to come home. Haiden Rudloff then reached on another miscue, and Nate Barry followed with an RBI fielder's choice as Heller beat the throw home to knot the score at 8. Mason Haynes followed with RBI single to left-center field, which plated Rudloff with the decisive run.
After a quick, scoreless first two innings, Early used a six-run top of third inning to seize control of the contest.
John Acker led off with a single to center field for the Vipers, Dylan Brame then reached on an error and a single to left field by Jordan Campos loaded the sacks with no outs. A bases-loaded walk to Ethan Pallette plated Acker with the first run, then Jared Baucom reached on an error that brought home Brame. Another bases-loaded free pass to Ki Houston stretched Early's advantage to 3-0. J.D. Nowell then came through with a two-RBI single to center that scored Pallette and Baucom. Houston later stole third base and an errant throw to the bag allowed him to race home with the sixth run.
Stephenville immediately began to chip away at Early's lead, scoring twice in the bottom of the third inning as Barry's two-run homer plated himself and Rudloff, who singled with two outs.
Early pushed the lead to 7-2 in the top of the fourth as Campos walked with two outs and scored on an RBI single to center field by Baucom, who was thrown out at second base to end the frame.
Stephenville crept within 7-4 in the bottom of the fourth as Steed and Maruska singled to start the frame. Maruska was retired when Hicks reached on a fielder's choice. Heller followed with an RBI fielder's choice and Rudloff added an RBI single. It appeared the Royals would cut further into Early's lead but Barry was called out for tossing the bat after drilling a line drive to the fence for the final out of the inning.
Early added its last run in the top of the fifth as Nowell singled, stole both second and third base, and came home on an RBI bloop infield single by Justin Pierce.
The Vipers then retired the Royals in order in the bottom of the fifth inning, but were unable to match that feat in the bottom of the sixth.
Stephenville went on to drop a 15-7 decision to the Ballinger Bombers in Friday night's tournament championship game, but the first- and second-place teams from the district advance to the 12-team state tournament in Chandler July 16.