By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Despite an unexpected day of rest and two bombs in the first inning, Houston Mustangs Head Baseball Coach Lane McCarter gave his pitching staff a warning.
McCarter and his Mustangs stood one win away from the State championship game heading into the Class 4A State Baseball Tournament Semifinals Friday afternoon at Siegel High School.
Games were pushed back a day after rain most of the previous day. Houston had to wait on the winner of the Powell vs. Stewarts Creek game.
The Powell Panthers were ambushed by the Mustangs in the opening inning with a solo home run from Ryan Bland and two-run shot off the bat of Dean McCalla.
The insurance run drove in by infielder Ryan Mitchell, in the fourth inning turned out to be the winning run with Houston prevailing 4-3 and advancing to the championship game to play Farragut.
“We jumped out on them like we want to do but missed opportunity, missed opportunity, missed opportunity,” Houston Coach Collins Day said. “That’s what it boiled down to. Hats off to Powell. They never gave up.
“First game they scrapped back, came back and won that thing in extra innings,” he continued. “They came out in this game, we jumped on them. We thought it would be enough but they didn’t quit.”
Houston and Powell opened up the 2022 State Baseball Tournament May 24 in a thriller with the Mustangs surviving 2-0.
Houston scored more runs in the rematch in one inning after the two home runs. Mustang starter Brady Jones breathed a sigh of relief.
“Before we went out there Coach told us, even dudes who might not throw that much, to be ready to go,” Jones recalled. “You might get your time. I got tired after a little while and some dudes came in and did big things. We came away with the win. I had faith in my guys.
“Pitching behind a lead is always amazing,” he added. “These guys do a great job at it. We do a good job swinging the bats. It feels good to be ahead. And let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Jones had to pitch his team tomorrow going five-plus innings with seven strikeouts. But Coach’s warning came to fruition when JD Klug and Owen Waggner had to come in for some relief.
Ahead 4-1 in the top of the sixth inning, the Mustangs ran into some trouble giving up three walks and hitting one Panther batter. Powell scored twice leading to the Mustangs calling on Connor Weaks to lock up things.
“We’ve seen so many different games and so many different looks,” Day noted. “Our kids don’t panic. Our kids just stay in the moment and make plays and do what they have to do. The biggest thing was they never tied it or took the lead. I felt like that was very, very important.”
Day said the strategy paid off with the win and giving Houston an opponent to play in the title game.
“We’re trying to keep them under 26 (pitches),” he noted. “We want every arm available tomorrow. It’s a one game deal. So we have to be ready and be ready for anything to happen. Handle like we have all year.”
Weaks earned the save against Powell with a flyout and a pair of ground balls. The Mustangs began to celebrate a trip to Saturday’s championship game.
“Don’t make the moment too big,” Jones concluded. “Just relax and play your game. We’ll come out on top if we do that. And let’s get some rest tonight.”