ABILENE — The Bangs Dragons put an end to the Wall Hawks’ postseason run last year en route to the program’s first-ever state tournament appearance.
Thursday night in a one-game Region I-2A quarterfinals playoff at McMurry University’s Driggers Stadium, No. 2 Wall returned the favor and closed out the Dragons’ campaign, 5-1.
Bangs (15-13), the fourth seed out of District 6-2A, charged into the third round of the playoffs despite struggling to keep its record above .500 during much of the regular season.
“I told the guys after the game about a month ago nobody would have given them a chance,” said Bangs head coach Jim Bob Williams. “It came down to self-confidence and believing in themselves. That’s what turned this season around. They believed in themselves and played up to their ability.”
District 6-2A champion Wall (25-1), which had generated 29 runs in two district meetings against Bangs, was limited to five runs on 10 hits as Dragon senior hurler J.T. Newton — who was coming off a no-hitter and two-hitter in postseason action — stranded nine base runners.
“I was pleased with holding them to five runs because we did make a few mistakes,” said Williams, whose team committed a pair of errors. “Wall has lived off the big inning this year and they had one in the first. If you’re going to get to J.T., the first inning is probably the time to do it before he gets into a rhythm. He made a few mistakes and they hit it hard, but that’s what Wall does.”
Newton, who struck out 13, walked four and hit another batter, yielded three runs in the first inning and two more in the fifth — and all five scored after two outs had been recorded in the inning.
“We were right there a couple of times from getting out of innings, and then there were a couple of times where we were on the verge of getting things going, but they just made plays,” Williams said. “When it came to two-out situations, they made the plays when they needed them defensively and we weren’t quite able to and get out of innings.”
The Dragons finished with six hits off Wall ace pitcher Peyton Brown — a double by Newton and singles from Tanner Shaw, Brady Glover, Chance Beck, Chuy Alvarado and Daniel Malett. Brown fanned five batters and walked a pair.
“We put the ball in play and tried to put pressure on the defense like we have the last few weeks,” Williams said. “We don’t have a lot of power to the gaps, and their shortstop and third baseman are about as good as there is around, and made play after play.”
In the top of the first inning, Layton Gully led off with a single up the middle, then Newton struck out Garrett Powers and Lane Oliver. Brown followed with an RBI triple, and an error on the play allowed him to round the bases and put Wall in front, 2-0.
Chad Kellermeier then doubled to right field before Tre Chitsey reached on an error, which scored Kellermeier with the third run.
The Hawks extended their lead in the fifth inning as Brown was hit by a pitch with one out, then moved to third base on an errant pickoff attempt.
With two down in the inning, Brown scored on a passed ball, then Chitsey drew a walk. Following a Connor McCrory single that put runners on first and second, Cale Roberts came through with an RBI double to plate Wall’s final run.
The Dragons finally lit up the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh as, with one out, Glover and Beck recorded back-to-back singles to right field. Alvarado then drew a free pass to load the bases.
Malett then grounded out to first base, but Glover was able to race home with the Dragons’ lone run. Brown retired Chane Burton on a grounder to shortstop to end the contest — as well as the season.