By JUSTIN RAINS
First, the Palestine baseball team was losing to Groesbeck heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.
Then, without a play being made on the field, they weren’t.
Then, sophomore catcher Ryan Zavala stepped in with one out and two on, his team tied with the team ahead of them in the standings in extra innings.
He stroked a two-strike pitch from Groesbeck’s Jay Salines into center field, scoring Devin Harris without a throw to give the Wildcats a 5-4 win in eight innings Tuesday.
“That was a pretty big situation right there,” Zavala said. “I just wanted to come through for my team. I just had to believe in me, believe in my team and they helped me out.”
The win moves the Wildcats to 3-3 in district play and keeps them a half-game ahead of Fairfield in the race for District 19-3A’s third-and-final playoff spot. The Eagles beat Mexia Tuesday, 11-3, to move to 3-4.
Groesbeck had appeared to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning, when Klein Wiley — batting for pitcher Colton Swick — scored on a single to right by Jacob Fox to give the Goats a 5-4 lead.
But, both during the inning and after, PHS coach Austin Evans talked to both umpires on the field, protesting Wiley’s place in the lineup.
Between the top and the bottom of the seventh, both PHS coach Austin Evans and Groesbeck coach Cody Wilson met extensively with the umpires in discussions that took almost 20 minutes.
Finally, it was ruled that Wiley was to be called out because he had previously pinch-hit for another player in the Groesbeck lineup.
That again made the game tied, and set up Zavala’s heroics in the eighth.
“This is really the chapter we’ve been trying to turn when it comes to our seniors, who have been in this program for a long period of time,” Evans said. “It’s finally changing to where we have a belief and we really trust and understand what we’re trying to accomplish here.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s inning two or three, we finish the game and we play the game the right way.”
Palestine might not have gotten to that point if not for the effort of starting pitcher Brian Gummelt, who struggled at times with his command but gave Palestine 6.1 solid innings on the mound.
Despite issuing eight walks, Gummelt only gave up four runs — three of which came in the second inning.
“It was great,” Gummelt said. “My team was behind me and they’re the ones that got me through tonight.”
But, Palestine answered in the bottom of the second with two runs of its own, with Gummelt, Austin Brown and James David starting the inning with three-straight singles.
Tyler Somner then flew out to deep left, scoring Gummelt, and Brown came around to score on a two-out walk by Juan Trejo.
The inning could have been bigger, but David was cut down on a fielder’s choice hit by Harris, and Zane Worsencroft grounded out to end the threat, leaving the bases loaded.
It wasn’t the only time Palestine struggled with offensive execution. The Wildcats were unable to lay down key bunts late in the game. But, when it really mattered, Zavala came up clutch.
“It’s really exciting for the team to see that we can come back and have some fight about us,” Evans said. “Each one of these guys, throughout the season, have had a crucial (at-bat) where it’s been situational and they’ve come up big.”
Groesbeck added a fourth run in the top of the sixth, but a two-out rally by Palestine tied things up headed to the seventh.
Angel Trejo got things started with a walk, followed by Harris reaching when Groesbeck unsuccessfully attempted to force out Trejo at second to end the inning.
Juan Trejo followed that up with an infield single to load the bases, bringing up Worsencroft, who at that point was 0-for-3 at the plate.
He wasn’t when the at-bat ended, sending both Angel Trejo and Harris home with a single to left field that tied up the game.
“That’s the thing about this team,” Evans said. “One through nine, everybody has come up and made a play at some point in time.”
Palestine returns to action Friday, when the Wildcats travel to Mexia to take on the Blackcats in a game they really need to win. Subvarsity action begins at 4:30 p.m., with varsity to follow.