By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
The much-anticipated first game between the Tigers and Whitehouse will come with a slight surprise Thursday night — Wildcats standout pitcher Patrick Mahomes will not be on the mound.
So the marquee pitching matchup of Tigers ace Holden Grounds vs. Mahomes will have to wait until April 19 when the teams play at Price Field, if it happens then.
For now, we’ll just have to go with two of the state’s top 4A teams, Corsicana and Whitehouse, in a fight for first place in District 16-4A at 7 p.m. Thursday night (KAND-AM 1340).
And also know that Whitehouse is likely throwing the pitcher that many rival coaches believe is its best — 6-2 junior right-hander Ryan Cheatham.
“This is why we do everything we do for games like this,” Tigers coach Heath Autrey said. “It’s not a must win. It’s a test. It’s a test of where we are mentally and competing-wise.”
Both teams are 3-0 in district and two games ahead of the third-place teams. As expected, the Tigers and Wildcats have already separated themselves from the rest of 16-4A.
Whitehouse needed eight innings to beat Nacogdoches on Tuesday night, winning 4-3 behind 11 strikeouts from Mahomes.
The Tigers can relate to having to go extra innings with the Dragons — Corsicana won at Nacogdoches 1-0 in eight innings on Friday behind 15 strikeouts from Grounds.
Just another example of how on paper, this Corsicana-Whitehouse matchup appears to be pretty even.
Whitehouse, coming off of a regional semifinal appearance, is 14-6 with five of its losses by a run.
Corsicana, which advanced to the regional quarterfinals last year, is 18-4-1 and has won 16 of its last 17 games.
“That makes it pretty good right there,” Whitehouse coach Derrick Jenkins said. “It’s good. It’s easy to get yourself up for a game.”
The Tigers will return to Whitehouse for the first time since their biggest wins last season — two emotional playoff victories over Hallsville that were won during a wild and wet weekend in Whitehouse.
Several Tigers are back from that team — including Grounds — which should give Corsicana some positive vibes heading back east. Grounds pitched in the Tigers’ Game 1 win over Hallsville that ended around 2 a.m.
“Any time you play a pretty big game somewhere you are acquainted with and have good memories from it helps you,” Autrey said. “To what extent, you don’t know. It’s one less thing you have to worry about.”
Jenkins has pulled the first interesting move of the two-game district series by not throwing Mahomes. And Jenkins didn’t say who would start Thursday’s game, just saying that it would be either Ryan Cheatham (4-0) or Peyton Conser (3-2).
It’s a decision that doesn’t surprise Autrey, who also likes to mix up pitching matchups against the top teams in the district.
And if it’s Cheatham, the Tigers will see a right-hander with a fastball that runs up to the plate at 86 to 89 mph plus a breaking ball and changeup. It will be a major challenge for Corsicana’s lineup.
“If it was to come down to a last game over here for a title, they would probably want the best athlete Mahomes out there,” Autrey said. “Either way, (Jenkins) probably has several reasons for it. Cheatham is really good.”
Jenkins said it’s a luxury he has with good pitching behind Mahomes, who is 3-1 this season.
“Conser has come in and done a great job,” Jenkins said. “It’s nice setting things up. You don’t have to match up kids as much.”
Whitehouse will face a Tigers team that has come together nicely with a blend of veterans and young players.
Right fielder Brady Harlan had two more hits and two RBIs in Tuesday’s 7-2 win over Lindale. Freshman second baseman Layton Wolver had an RBI single.
The Tigers know they can lean heavily on Grounds, who was brilliant Friday against Nacogdoches, running his season record to 7-0.
Whitehouse expects a tough opponent.
“They have a kid that can throw a little bit,” Jenkins said. “They can swing the bat and they put pressure on you. They’re always good. Fundamentally they do what you’re suppose to do. Coach Autrey does a good job. I would expect a very good ballgame.”