Wildcats get rematch with Rockwall in regional quarterfinals
By Devin Hasson email@example.com
Plano Senior and Rowlett saw their roles reversed twice on Saturday.
After dropping the series opener on Friday, the Eagles found themselves in a must-win situation and they passed the test and seized momentum with a 4-2 victory in Game 2.
That transferred the pressure to the shoulders of the 10-5A champion Wildcats.
They, too, responded, as Brett Hudspeth had a huge three-run double in the first inning to swing the momentum back to the Plano dugout and Jake Fraze went the distance en route to a 7-2 win on its home turf to claim the Class 5A area round best-of-3 series.
The Wildcats (26-10-1) advance to face Rockwall, who outlasted Jesuit on Saturday, next week in the Class 5A Region II quarterfinals at a time and place to be determined.
Rowlett (22-15-1) had forced the decisive game by scratching across just enough runs and then getting solid pitching performances from starter Sean Williams and reliever Mike Williams in Game 2.
“It wasn’t a huge shock, I’d have rather taken care of it in the first one, but we knew they (Rowlett) would be ready today,” Plano Senior head coach Rick Robertson said. “Mitchell (Hansen) pitched well, but Sean (Williams) limited our chances. You make your breaks, and they had the one inning where they had three infield hits … we just ran into a buzzsaw there in Game 2, but we felt good, we had a lot of confidence in Jake (Fraze) and it always helps when you are able to rattle off some runs in the first inning.”
The Wildcats wasted little time making a statement in Game 3, as Cody Farhat ripped a double to left-center to lead off the bottom of the first. A.J. Liu then reached on an infield hit and Hansen was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Hudspeth fell behind in the count, but then laced a 0-2 pitch to the right-center field gap, clearing the bases and giving Plano a 3-0 lead. Michael Davis followed a RBI double to stretch the advantage to 4-0 at the end of the first.
“‘Hud’ is a sophomore and we’ve had him at designated hitter and he’s been a steady, reliable bat behind (Mitchell) Hansen,” Robertson said. “He was able to get a pitch and take it to right field. We went oppo (opposite field) and up the middle a lot more in the third game and they were some big hits.”
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the second when Liu singled and Ryan Robertson crushed a RBI ground-rule double to center.
Rowlett then called on Williams, who needed just 26 pitches to get through the final three innings earlier in the afternoon. The junior kept the Eagles within striking distance, pitching two-and-a-third hitless innings.
After managing just two hits through the first four innings, Rowlett got its chance in the top of the fifth, as Payton Nix, Mark Heidrich and Bryce Weatherby had back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases with nobody out.
The Eagles then got a break when Aiden Abueva hit a ground ball to third, but the throw home sailed high, allowing a run to score and the bases to remain loaded with no outs.
But Fraze buckled down, getting a force out at home on the next batter. And while Tanner Sonnenberg did drive in a run to make it 5-2 with a fielder’s choice, Fraze escaped the jam without further damage after getting a pop out to retire the side.
Plano got those two runs back in the bottom of the sixth, as Liu had a RBI double and Robertson singled home a run to push the advantage to 7-2.
Fraze was able to pitch around a two-out single by Payton Nix in the sixth and a two-out base hit by Bobby Casillas in the seventh to close it out.
“Those two runs in the sixth were big; in this ball park and the way the wind was blowing out, you never feel safe,” Robertson said. “We’ve got some nice pitchers and feel good about all three guys (starters) and we have some other guys that can come in, as well … He (Fraze) did a good job today.”
This was not the first time many of these Plano players had faced this situation. Last season, the Wildcats dropped the second game of their best-of-3 series against Lake Highlands before winning the finale and going on to the regional quarterfinals before falling to Rockwall.
They are hoping the momentum of rallying in Game 3 on Saturday will carry them past the Yellow Jackets this time around.
“It is a valuable experience. We did it last year in the first round, and it is a little easier when it is Thursday-Friday-Saturday rather than having to come back on the same day,” Robertson said. “But you have to play with heart because you are playing for your season. Both teams left it all on the field today and there is only one happy team at the end. But that is the nature of the playoffs, when it is all said and done, there is only one happy team left.”
Game 2: Rowlett evens series with 4-2 victory
Rowlett knew the situation going into the start of Game 2–win or go home.
The Eagles had to be feeling this could be their day after getting a run in the top of the first inning without the benefit of a hit, as Aiden Abueva walked, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead.
Rowlett scratched and clawed during the next six innings, as well, to pull out a 4-2 victory to force a third game.
The Eagles pushed the advantage to 2-0 in the top of the third, as Jake McHugh reached on an infield single, moved into scoring position on a base hit by Bobby Casillas and scored on a RBI single by Tanner Sonnenberg.
Rowlett’s pivotal rally came in the top of the fourth when Dalton Atnip got things started with a single, Bryce Weatherby drew a walk and the runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch.
Abueva then hit a tapper down the third-base line that he was able to leg out, driving in a run in the process. Casillas followed with an almost identical chopper down to third and the result was the same, with the Eagles’ fourth run scoring.
Plano had its chances, but the Rowlett defense made some nice plays to prevent big rallies.
In the bottom of the first, Mike Williams caught a sinking liner in right field and doubled a runner off first. When the Wildcats scored their first run in the bottom of the third on a RBI single by Austin Toups, the Eagles were able to catch him trying stretch a single into a double.
Plano put their first two runners on in the fourth, but a 5-4-3 double play limited the damage to a single run to cut the lead to 4-2.
Williams then entered the game in the fifth inning and allowed only two base runners, one of which was gunned down on a steal attempt by catcher Brian Weidinger to end another threat.
Follow Devin Hasson on Twitter: @DevinHasson