By Todd Wills
Special to the Corsicana Daily Sun
Heath Autrey set up his pitching rotation for the Tigers’ bi-district playoff series against rival Waxahachie to maximize the availability of senior Holden Grounds.
That’s a good thing now.
The Tigers, who lost 6-3 to the Indians on Wednesday night in Game 1 of their best-of-three Region II-4A bi-district playoff series, will turn to Grounds in a must-win Game 2 Friday night at Waxahachie’s Richards Park.
“We set the rotation up to use Holden as much as we thought we could,” Autrey said.
Grounds, who is 10-1 with a 0.82 ERA, pitched the seventh inning of Wednesday’s game. He gets the ball again Friday night to start Game 2 against an Indians’ lineup that proved formidable in Game 1 with eight hits and a home run by Sammy Ernst.
Waxahachie bolted out to a 5-1 lead against freshman Trevor Nolen, who showed poise after a close play at home plate in the fourth inning gave Waxahachie a 6-3 lead. Nolen retired the Indians in order in the fifth.
“They swung the bats,” Autrey said. “I thought Trevor handled himself well.”
The play at the plate may well have a been a crusher. Autrey said from his view that Tigers catcher Zach Rash took a brilliant throw from right fielder Brady Harlan and tagged the speedy Indians baserunner Trent Armstrong below the waist. The home plate umpire told Autrey that Rash made the tag up high.
Autrey was restricted to the dugout — a rule that’s in place in high school baseball — after papers on his clipboard flew everywhere after the Tigers’ coach reacted with the expected playoff emotion.
“It was a momentum changer,” Autrey said.
Waxahachie (24-7) will send its own quality pitcher to the mound for Game 2, whether it’s Armstrong, or closer David Martinelli, who Autrey said was hitting 93 mph on the radar gun in the seventh inning Wednesday night.
Armstrong pitched all eight innings in Game 2 of last year’s regional quarterfinal series, allowing only five hits and two runs. The Indians won in extra innings 5-2 despite a 14-strikeout effort by the Tigers’ Heath Donica.
Grounds will need to deliver a Donica-like performance. The senior Texas State signee is more than capable. Grounds threw a one-hitter in a 3-1 defeat to Whitehouse, his only loss this season. He’s dominated opponents this season with 98 strikeouts and 19 hits allowed for 60 innings pitched.
Grounds had a six-inning no-hitter against Waxahachie last season in a regular-season win at Price Field. He didn’t pitch as well in last year’s playoff series against Waxahachie, going only four innings in an eventual 3-2 Corsicana win in Game 1 of the series at Richards Park. But that was coming off a long weekend before against Hallsville in which Grounds had a 15-strikeout game in a area-round playoff win.
Grounds wants the ball with the pressure on in Waxahachie.
“We need a win and it’s a big game for us,” Grounds said. “I want to help get a win for the team.”
The Tigers can’t help but feel good about having their ace on the mound. But they’ll need more than the six hits they collected in Game 1, and they can’t go the last four innings of Game 2 without scoring.
“It gives us comfort having Holden out there,” Autrey said. “We have to play well. We have to hit the ball.”