Con-ta-gious ...ken.tajes... (adjective)
DALLAS -- "Contagious, yeah, that's the word," said Corsicana second baseman Miguel Leuvano. "Contagious... That's what it was. That's the best way to describe it."
Luevano was talking about the Tigers' explosive seven-run inning Wednesday night, but he could have been talking about this magical season, this pinch-me ride through the playoffs for the Tigers, who won again, coming back (make that, storming back) to beat Frisco Lone Star 10-4 in the opening game of this best-of-three series in the 5A Region II Semifinals.
Yup, the Region Semifinals, where no Heath Autrey Tiger team had ever played until Wednesday night.
Autrey, one of the best high school baseball coaches in Texas, won his 300th game this year, and he's had some incredibly talented teams in his eight-year run at CHS, but something always stopped the Tigers.
Bad luck, bad timing, a bad call (Corbin Hall is still waiting to get a called strike on the corner, and that was three years ago), or a bad bounce -- but a bad something was always in the Tigers' way.
Autrey's kids didn't just arrive in the Region Semifinals, they knew just what to do when they got there.
So when the game turned into one of those knock-down, get-up, I-hit-you-last kind of ball games that shoves teams up against the wall and dares them to step up, the Tigers didn't blink.
"The thing I'm really proud of tonight is the way we handled the adversity and came back," Autrey said. "We overcame that in the early part of the game. When you face adversity the question is do you have the ability to overcome it? I'm really proud of the way the kids handled it."
It was a tug-o-war early, but after swapping leads back-and-forth over the first three innings -- the Tigers led 1-0, then Lone Star led 2-1, and then the Tigers led 3-2 -- finally Lone Star went up 4-3 and shut down the Tigers in the bottom of the third.
Corsicana's ace Micah Burke started and deserved a better fate. Three of Lone Star's runs were unearned on uncharacteristic errors, and even though Burke singled and scored when Hunter Autrey ripped an RBI single to center in the first and the Tigers had three hits, including hits from Cade Johnson and Blake Hoffman, and a two-run single from Burke in the second, Corsicana was down 4-3 after three innings.
It was that kind of start, a no-luck beginning that included Devan Lindsey's blast to left field. Lindsey had a towering homer over the tall left field wall at Dallas Baptist University Saturday, igniting the Tigers' comeback in Game 3 against Joshua that sent them to the the showdown with Lone Star.
Lindsey hit another shot toward the same wall in the first inning Wednesday. But Lone Star's left fielder Grant Hardy made a running, over-the-shoulder catch and cradled the snow-cone for the final out, preventing another run from scoring and a big inning.
The game and the night had that eerie feeling of could-a, would-a, should-a.
Then things got contagious.
"It just seems like lately we're scoring a lot of runs in one inning," said Lindsey, who was part of the Tigers' hit parade in the fourth when they simply scorched the ball, scoring seven runs on five hard hit balls and a bunt.
Ironically, it was Johnson's bunt single that started the avalanche. Then Kolby Kinkade, who had just entered the game on a double-switch, was hit by a pitch. Lane Fuentes never had a chance to get a hit. He walked on four pitches to load the bases for Burke.
Autrey talks to his kids all the time, and guess what? They listen.
"Autrey told me to be ready for the first pitch and hit it as hard as I could," Burke said. "I went up to the plate ready to hit. I saw the first pitch come out of his hand, saw it all the way, and I just swung as hard as I could, trying to hit it in the gap."
He missed the gap.
But he bounced the ball off the right field wall, a laser shot into the corner that sounded like it came out of a canon and felt like a lightning bolt for the Tigers, who went bananas in the dugout as everyone raced home and Burke went flying into third with a three-run triple.
"It felt great, just great," Burke said. "Autrey knows. We always listen to him. He's the Wizard. He's the Wiz!"
Burke's laser shot changed everything with one swing (albeit a very hard swing).
"When Micah hit that triple it just busted it wide open," Lindsey said. "We feel like we can get hits up and down our lineup. Everyone feels like 'if one guy can do it, I can do it.' It's a next-man-up mentality, and we have just been passing it along (during the playoffs). That's what happened in that inning."
The Tigers had an eight-run sixth inning to come back and beat Lindale 9-5 in the Area round of the playoffs and had a nine-run inning in Game 1 against Joshua last week.
They had that same feeling in the fourth against Lone Star.
Luevano followed Burke by ripping a single to left to make it 7-4 and Lindsey drilled a two-out single to bring home Luevano from second.
Ty Nolen, who had some of the biggest hits of the year with late inning clutch hits in both of the Tigers' comeback wins against Red Oak, came through in the clutch again, driving a double into the left field corner to bring home Lindsey with a 9-4 lead.
They weren't done yet.
Johnson, who started in center because Burke pitched, hammered a hard single to right and Nolen scored with a great slide at the plate to make it 10-4.
Burke was tough on the mound and got the job done on a night when he didn't have his best stuff, and he was even tougher at the plate, going 3-for-4 and driving in five runs.
"Micah didn't have his best stuff, but he kept us in the game and did a good job," Autrey said."He competed. He's a gamer. That's who he is. He's a gritty competitor and he gave us everything on a night when he didn't have his best stuff.
"And he comes through with a big (two-run) hit and that big triple in the fourth. He's always going to give you his best."
Luevano, the freshman who plays second base like a freshman in college, came on to pitch in the top of the fourth before the rally, and even though the slick fielding infielder hasn't pitched much this season, he gave Autrey and the Tigers just what they needed -- four scoreless innings.
"For a freshman to come in in that situation, he did a great job," Autrey said. "He came in and got some quick outs and finished the game for us."
Leuvano retired the first eight batters he faced and didn't allow a hit until the Rangers put together three singles in the seventh. But he left the bases loaded with a fly out to left -- to Burke (who else?).
"I knew Micah would catch it," Luevano said. "When he caught it I felt amazing, just amazing!"
Pitching coach Brian Nolen told Luevano to relax and throw strikes.
"I felt comfortable," Luevano said of the pressure. "I threw a lot of changeups, probably about a-third of my pitches, and got a lot of popups. I counted on my defense behind me. There was pressure, but I wasn't thinking about the pressure. I was just trying to get the win for my team.
"I know we have a great defense and I knew they were behind me. They're my brothers."
The Tigers (26-9) are back at DBU for another 5 p.m. start Thursday for Game 2, and they will face Lone Star's ace, Ryan Bogusz, who has signed with Oklahoma State.
Autrey has Kinkade,who has been solid all year and sensational in the playoffs, and Lindsey, who has closed out games all year, available, and Burke and Luevano still have pitches left in the bank if they're needed in Game 3, which would be played at 11 a,m, Saturday if necessary.
The Tigers are still a long way from knocking out a Lone Star team that won 32 games this season, but as Autrey has said all year: "This team is special."
And the kids always listen to Autrey.
After all, as Burke says: "He's the Wiz!"