Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

May 2, 2014

CHS Baseball: Tigers come back to beat Mansfield Summit 9-4 in bi-district opener

MANSFIELD —  Coach Heath Autry was smiling when he said it was the best game Brady Harlan has ever pitched -- best in his life -- and Harlan’s smile was even bigger when he heard his coach’s words.

    “It was my best,’’ he said. “I only threw three innings all year, and I never threw more than one inning in a game.’’

    But these are the playoffs, that magical inspirational time of the year, and Harlan and the Corsicana Tigers had a bit of both in their magical and inspirational 9-4 comeback win over Mansfield Summit Thursday night.

    Just look at Harlan, coming in and tossing three gusty innings to get the win in relief in the opening game of the best-of-three series in the Class 4A bi-district round of the playoffs.

    Who could have expected that? Who could have expected these Tigers, these too young Tiger cubs, to get to the playoffs and then win the opener?

    Well, the Tigers did.

    Even when they were down on Thursday, this young team that doesn’t have a senior in the starting lineup, never quit.

    “The kids stayed positive,’’ Autry said. “The kids never doubted it. Everybody was confident, Attitude is everything in baseball.’’

    The Tigers didn’t just grab a 1-0 lead in the series, which continues at 7:00 p.m. Friday at Price Field, where Trevor Nolen will start for Corsicana, they grabbed this game by the throat and put it away with a six-run sixth inning and two more in the seventh to turn a 4-1 deficit into the best comeback win of the year.

    That wild, wonderful (and yes magical) sixth inning turned everything around. It started with a simple walk and ended with a running catch in center field that seemed to just take the life out of Summit’s Jaguars, who came into the playoffs after taking second place in District 15-4A.

    “That’s the best hitting team we’ve played all year,’’ Autry said. The Jaguars looked as good as it gets in the early innings, jumping on pitches early in the count.

    Harlan took over for Preston Hill, who pitched well and gave up four runs in four innings on five hits. Harlan closed the door in the bottom of the fifth and then chipped in with everybody as the Tigers sent 11 to the plate and scored six times in the top of the sixth to take a 7-4 lead.

    Until the wild sixth, their only run had come in the first when Layton Wolver singled, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch by starter Max Durland, who was lifted after five innings. Drew Montoya started the sixth for the Jaguars. He didn’t finish it. But Corsicana all but finished Summit.

    Bobby Lopez led off with a walk and Joe Vazquez ripped a double to left to get things started, and Nolen laced a one-out liner into right that was almost caught on a shoestring. When it hit the ground, the bases were loaded.

    That brought in Summit’s Dustin Miller, who walked Carlos Vazquez to close the score to 4-2. Hunter Hayes brought in a run when the Summit’s third baseman couldn’t handle his hard grounder, and Rhett Holcomb knotted the score at 4-4 with a safety squeeze bunt that was hit back to Miller. But Miller made a full 360 turn fielding the ball and had no chance to get Nolen at the plate.

    Wolver hit a high chopper to short, and Summit barely got the force out at second, but another run was in, and it was a 5-4 game. Then Wolver danced off first headed for second and when the Jags tried to make a play, Hunter raced home from third for another small-ball run for Corsicana, which has lived on small ball all season. Then Harlan ripped a double to right-center to make it 7-4.

    But Harlan was just getting started with the dramatics. He gave up two walks and a single to load the bases with no outs and then almost did a David Clyde imitation (you remember how young Clyde walked the bases loaded in his Rangers debut and then struck out the side).

    Harlan had back-to-back strikeouts and then Scott Sorensen hit a liner to center that was sinking fast as the runners were moving with two outs. But not fast enough, Holcomb raced in and reached out to stab the ball and end the inning. His teammates surrounded him as they ran off the field in joy.

    “I saw it was a liner,’’ Holcomb said after the game. “At first I thought it was going to drop. I had to stay calm. I had a good jump. I thought it was going to have to dive but it hung up.

    “It was a great feeling making the catch,” he said. “Getting the third out of the inning with the bases loaded. It was big. We just had the big inning. Our bats just came alive (in the sixth). Everybody came together. We were fired up in the dugout. Everybody was jumping and making noise.’’

    Holcomb pulled off a safety squeeze to score Nolen in the seventh and Wolver followed with an RBI single to left to make it a 9-4 game. Harlan nailed it down in the seventh with a walk and two more strikeouts, including the final out of the game.

    “I really didn’t feel any pressure,’’ Harlan said. “I’ve been working hard in my bullpen sessions at practice and working on my curve ball. I didn’t see it as pressure. You just have to think positive and know what you are able to do and know what you’ve been working on. I felt real good warming up in the bullpen and felt good when I went out there.’’

    Harlan’s gutsy performance (especially in the sixth), going three innings and giving up just one hit while striking out four, helped turn the game around. The Tigers usually go to Corbin Hall in these relief situations, but Hall is injured, and Autry wanted to avoid going to Nolen, who has been the team’s workhorse this season, because he wanted Nolen to start Game 2. Harlan answered all those questions and put the Tigers in good shape as they head to the second game.

    They didn’t look like Tiger cubs Thursday, but that has been Autry’s point all year. He’s embraced their youth and believes it gives them an energy all their own. They’re 20-8 after Thursday’s win over Summit (18-11-2).

    “I was proud of them,” Autry said. “We take it one pitch at a time and we play our game. This is a young team. To win 20 games with this team is awesome, just awesome.”

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