By JUSTIN RAINS
In an as-expected pitcher’s duel, it took only one off inning to cost Cayuga and ace Chantz Holland.
Holland gave up four hits and hit a batter in the top of the third inning, and Harleton turned that into four runs — the only runs of the game — as Harleton topped Cayuga, 4-0, here at the Lindale ISD Baseball and Softball Complex in regional quarterfinal action.
With the victory, Harleton moves on to face the winner of Saturday’s Douglass/Lovelady one-game playoff in the regional semifinals.
“I think it all started when he hit the batter. That just really got us in some trouble,” CHS coach Greg Branch said. “Any time you’re in a pitcher’s duel and you’re putting runners on for free, you’re asking for trouble. They took advantage of some key opportunities.”
Holland and Harleton pitcher Steven Crump dueled all night long, neither giving the opposing offense much to work with. That is, expect for in that third inning.
The frame started innocently enough, with Holland coaxing a pop-up from Levi Pilkington, but he then walked Cody Fregia and allowed a single to Brooks Lloyd to put two on with only one out.
He then got Ty Howeth to fly out to center and appeared ready to escape the jam unharmed, when Crump grounded a ball between third base and shortstop.
The ball, which was always going to be a hit, was stopped by a dive from Cayuga shortstop Hunter Johnson, which caused it to roll away from the Cayuga players giving chase and gave Fregia the time he needed to score to make it 1-0.
Jack Underwood followed with a single of his own, which scored Lloyd and Matt Burke then cleared the bases with a long double to left-centerfield that scored both Crump and Underwood and make it 4-0.
That kind of lead was all the cushion that Crump would need on the night.
The Harleton hurler allowed only one hit — a one-out bloop to left in the second inning by Cayuga’s Hunter Jenkins.
He struck out 10, and only three times did Cayuga get a runner into scoring position.
“I don’t think he ever threw a pitch right down the middle,” Branch said of Crump. “We had scouted him before and he hit his corners...and he did the same tonight. He went inside, he went outside. I don’t think he every really threw anything down the middle that we could hit.”
For six of his seven innings, Holland was just as impressive for Cayuga.
The Vernon College-bound senior struck out five and allowed only two hits outside of the four from the third inning in what proved to be his final outing in a Wildcat uniform.
“He’s always been a No. 3 and a No. 2 and he’s been behind the shadows of some great arms,” Branch said of his departing ace. “Now, he’s been the featured guy and to watch him grown and develop has been an honor and a treat.
“He’s got a very bright future that’s going to be bigger than Cayuga, so I’m very proud of him.”
The loss ends a rather tumultuous season for the Wildcats, who were playing with a mix-and-matched lineup during the postseason due to injuries and other issues.
Players like Colt Laughrey and Keegan Holliman, who either didn’t play or weren’t even on varsity earlier in the season made significant contributions in the postseason for Cayuga, which finishes the year at 24-4 after advancing to yet another regional quarterfinal.
“This season — all the way back to January until now — has been a roller coaster ride for these boys, and I apologized to them for it,” Branch said. “At the beginning of the season, they didn’t even know who the coach was going to be.
“It’s been a tough road for these kids, but the team that finished tonight has grown up a lot, and I’m very proud of them.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com