Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

May 2, 2014

Class 4A bi-district playoffs: Tigers sweep series with 2-1 win over Summit

Nolen pitches a gem, Vega delivers RBI single in sixth to lift Tigers

By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The biggest hits of the night came from the seventh and eighth hitters in the lineup and the guy on the mound said without a doubt he had just pitched the best game of his life.

    The second baseman left with a bloody nose and a kid who has been out with an arm injury who doesn’t play second took over for him.

    Even when the ball sailed the wrong way on what would have been a grand slam, nobody flinched or showed frustration. And in the end a kid who has struggled without complaint or even a whisper of doubt got the biggest hit of the season.

    All this and more tells you what you need to know about this Corsicana baseball team, this team of young kids who simply don’t quit and believe in themselves more than you can understand.

    And there they were at the end of the night Friday, leaping for joy and piling on each other in the middle of the diamond in a wild and joyful celebration, a big blue and gold ball of ballplayers who play the game right and celebrate like they mean it -- because they do.

    They had just beaten (and some would say upset) Mansfield Summit 2-1 at Price Field to sweep the best of three series in the Class 4A bi-district round of the playoffs and move on to the area round of the playoffs.

    Yup, this young group of believers had done it.

    It took a tough and gutsy performance from Trevor Nolen, who went the distance and gave up just one run on six hits while striking out two and walking just one all night. The only run came on Creighton Eldridge’s homer in the third, a shot over the right field fence.

    “Basically, he made on bad pitch all night,’’ Corsicana Coach Heath Autry said. “It was his best game all year. I think Trevor gave us the confidence to stay in there and win the game.’’

    Nolen couldn’t wait to take the mound for the biggest game of his life.

    “ I was shaking in class,’’ he said. “I was amped. I think I got four hours of sleep last night. I live for stuff like this. It’s everything I want in life, to pitch in a game like this.’’

    He said he didn’t feel the weight of the world, and just made his pitches, mixing in a changeup more often than at any time this year.

    “I didn’t feel pressure,” he said. “Everyone is going to get nervous in the playoffs. It’s adversity, but what matters is how you respond. All my nerves go away the minute I walk on the mound. Then I just pitch. I had all three pitches tonight. I had my slider all year but tonight I had my changeup. I’ve been working on it. About one-third of my pitches were changeups instead of so many fastballs.’’

    His best pitch was his double-play ball pitch -- the one that left the mound and ended up in shortstop Layton Wolver’s glove. Wolver, who is a sponge at short, where he gets to everything, and gets there quickly, gobbled up three double play balls in the fifth, sixth and seventh, including the game-ending grounder.

    “When I saw that ball coming my eyes got big, really big -- as big as stars,’’ said Wolver of the final grounder that ended Summit’s season. “Trevor pitched an awesome game. He couldn’t have put us in a better situation.”

    Nolen feels the same way about his shortstop.

    “He’s as good as it gets,’’ he said of Wolver.

    Wolver, who has been the catalyst for the team all year, almost put the Tigers in control early. With the bases loaded in the second, Wolver hit a towering shot to left that had grand slam written on it when it left this bat and then drifted about 10 feet foul.

    “When I hit it, I knew it had a chance,” Wolver said. “But, oh well …I just knew we would get them later.’’

    They did.

    Nolen doubled in the second and was left stranded at third, and then hit a lead off double in the fourth. He moved to third on Carlos Vega’s bunt and scored when Hunter Hayes had one of those great at-bats coaches preach about and love to see. Hayes, the eighth hitter in the lineup, was down 0-2 in the count, but just hung in there over and over and worked the count to 3-2. Then he sent a fly to center that was deep up to bring home Nolen and forge a 1-1 tie.

    It was a monster at-bat and the biggest sacrifice fly of the season. It took all the pressure off the Tigers and ignited a packed Corsicana crowd that was loud all night.

    But the final hero was Vega, who had his own battle to win, working the count to 2-2 before ripping an RBI single up the middle to bring home DJ Minniear, who singled to start the sixth and moved to second on Nolen’s sacrifice bunt.

    “I am so proud of him,” Autry said of Vega. “Carlos has been struggling all year. I am so proud of his attitude. He never pouted, never got down on himself. He kept a positive attitude. And then it all came down to one swing -- the best hit of the year.’’

    Autry believes in all his kids and that’s part of this team’s secret -- they believe, too.

    They’re 21-8 and alive and kicking.

    “I told them early in the season,’’ Autry said. “I’ve won a lot of championships and it comes down to the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters and comes down to two-out RBI’s. Those kids came through.’’

    Hayes wasn’t on the field to jump on the dog pile in celebration. He left the game in the fifth when a nasty bad hop hit him in the nose. He left bleeding and in pain, and Autry said they will know more about his condition later. The coach had to find a second baseman so he went to his closer. Honest. Corbin Hall, who has been Corsicana’s money man out of the bullpen all year, can’t pitch because of an injury, but when Autry ask him if could man down second, Hall grabbed his glove.

    It was that kind of night with everyone chipping to do what they could do to get the win.

    Minniear, who had the leadoff single in the sixth, said he went to the plate just wanting to do enough.

    “I knew I had to get on base,’’ he said. “I was focusing on not trying to do too much and just hit the ball. Good tings happen when you put the ball in play.’’

    He stroked a single to left and then scored from second on Vega’s clutch hit. Minniear knew the center fielder would come up throwing and thought of one thing.

    “I just knew I had to get there. I knew I had to score,” he said. “He (Vega) came through for us and I had to score that run. It was such a great feeling to score and great feeling to win the game. Hopefully, we can go far (in the playoffs). I have a feeling we are going to go far.’’

    They will get there together.

    “Winning this game means a lot,” Wolver said. “I can‘t put it into words what it means. It‘s just a great feeling. We all just have that feeling. We’re all working for each other. It didn‘t take all of us to win. It took all of us.’’

    That’s who and what these Tigers are, and they’re alive and well in the playoffs. They‘ll have to wait to see who they play in the area round next week, but even that tasted sweet Friday night.

    “We won‘t worry about that tonight,’’ Autry said. “We will enjoy this tonight and get back to work. This is big. This is big for everyone. This is big for Corsicana High.

    “This is our moment,’’ he said. “We’re gong to enjoy this moment. This is what we worked for, and everyone worked for this together -- every member of this team.’’