Wildcats save season in seventh: Wild finish seals comeback win, Plano’s spot in regional finals

Matt Welch mwelch@starlocalmedia.com For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

WACO – An entire season’s worth of emotions were crammed into one sequence for both the Plano Senior and Klein Collins baseball teams in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday in Game 3 in the Region II Semifinals.

It took likely the program’s most dramatic 10-second span in years, but the Wildcats lived to fight another day after capitalizing on a late throwing error by Collins to score both the tying and winning wins in a 5-4 comeback victory at Baylor Ballpark.

I saw it the whole way and when I slid, I knew I beat it. The catcher was on the far right and I got the front side of the plate first.”

“In a game like that, you have to take advantage of what you have when you’ve got it,” said Rick Robertson, Plano head coach. “I’m so proud of these guys.”

Opportunity knocked for Plano in the seventh after putting sophomore A.J. Liu (walk) and senior Ryan Robertson (hit batter) on second and first base, respectively, with one out.

Trailing 4-3 at the time, junior Mitchell Hansen’s bid at knocking in the tying run nearly went awry, scraping a pitch from Collins reliever Hunter Strawn to produce a slow grounder between the mound and first base.

Diving to field the ball, a rolling Strawn attempted to heave the ball to first base, only to send the throw high and over the head of Angel DeLaFuente.

“[Strawn] just tried to make a play and that kind of stuff happened to us all night in Game 2 (a 7-2 Plano loss),” coach Robertson said. “… It was fortunate for us that the throw got away because we had speed on the bases.”

The Wildcats shoved all their chips to the middle of the table, as Liu scored the tying run and Ryan Robertson – who began the sequence running from first – followed to narrowly beat out a throw home to turn the team’s 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 victory in a matter of seconds.

“We’re an aggressive team,” coach Robertson said. “… It’s going to get guys thrown out at times, but you’re also going to make some plays as well. We had the tie and the pressure was off.

“What if I don’t send him and the chance had been there? Then I’m thinking about that for the rest of my life.”

It produced a freeze frame-worthy sequence at home plate, with Ryan Robertson and the Wildcats getting the better of the series-deciding exchange.

“I saw it the whole way and when I slid, I knew I beat it,” Ryan Robertson said. “The catcher was on the far right and I got the front side of the plate first.”

Those late heroics kept Plano’s season afloat just a half-inning after it appeared to be slipping away.

The Wildcats let a 3-0 lead dissipate by giving up four unanswered runs, the most notable being an RBI single by Ricky Urbano with two outs in the top of the seventh to put Plano on the ropes.

Leading 4-3, the Tigers nearly had a chance to extend that margin on a base hit by Nick Mikolajchak, but Hansen gunned down courtesy runner Travis Williams at home on a throw from right field to end the inning.

“Mitchell threw five innings [in Game 2] and actually looked a little tender pregame,” coach Robertson said. “But he came up with a great throw and the tag by (senior catcher) Michael (Davis) was great. He hung right in there and that wasn’t a tag; it was an absorb.”

Timely plays like that aided Plano early on, striking for two runs on four hits to start the game, as Hansen and Davis each produced RBIs to put the Wildcats up, 2-0. Junior Cody Farhat added an RBI on a groundout in the second inning to increase the edge to 3-0, but Collins starter Chris Suarez settled in and allowed just one hit over the next three frames.

“We had been hitting the ball well and we felt coming in that we could hit [Suarez] coming into this game,” coach Robertson said. “We started out that away and then he started hitting his spots and making pitches.”

That looked to be the case for Plano senior Jake Fraze, who struck out two of the first three hitters he faced, but ran into trouble in the third and fifth innings – the latter producing a two-run single by Joel Rodriguez that tied the action at 3-3.

Fraze hurled just 4.1 innings before junior Graham Welch anchored the final 2.2 to earn the win.

“When you play three games in three days, you need pitching,” coach Robertson said. “[Welch] did a tremendous job coming in when he did and he took us the rest of the way home.”

He also helped take the Wildcats further than they’ve been in 15 years, as Plano advances to the regional finals for the first time since 1999. They’ll square off against Atascocita at a time and place to be determined.

“Believe me, I’ve heard a lot about the ’99 team,” coach Robertson said. “I think this is only the third time we’ve ever been this far. We have our goals and we want to take each series at a time, but we’re not happy.

“We’re very pleased to be right here where we are, but we want to get past this next round too.”