By JUSTIN RAINS
The Cayuga baseball team that will take the field tonight against Harleton in the regional quarterfinals doesn’t look a lot like the Cayuga team that rolled through district play earlier this season.
Injuries have hampered the look of the Wildcat lineup, but Cayuga still finds itself into the playoffs’ third round for yet another season.
With key players missing due to injury and youngsters plugging vital holes, how is it that the Wildcats were able to outlast a very steady Maud team in the area round, despite dropping Game 1?
“First of all, I put it on the seniors,” CHS coach Greg Branch said. “They’ve really turned into the leaders of this team. Through the rough times this week, they’ve put the team on their shoulders.”
No player personifies those words from Branch better than Chantz Holland, especially when it comes to talking about the series with Maud.
Holland, the ace of the Wildcat staff, pitched in all three games against Maud in the area round.
He got the wins in both Game 2 and Game 3, pitching the last three innings in relief of the Game 2 win before starting Game 3.
In that Game 3 victory, he struck out 10 of the first 12 batters he faced.
Holland has started Game 1, but when Cayuga fell behind early thanks to four errors in the fourth inning, Branch pulled him to save him for the weekend. The bet paid off.
But, he’s not the only player making sacrifices.
Regular second baseman Brayden Walthall is now playing third base after an injury to Payton Wallace, which means that freshman Colt Laughrey is now the team’s starting second baseball, a role he filled well over the weekend, according to Branch.
Also coming up and making an impact was Keegan Holliman, who played left field in the series for the Wildcats.
Holliman wasn’t even a varsity player during the season, and he certainly wasn’t an outfielder. But, the former JV infielder made an impact in the series’ clinching victory, with three hits in Game 3.
When the Wildcats take the field tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Lindale to take on Harleton, they’ll again turn to Holland for an ace-like performance.
“Chantz Holland has had a great year and, if he’s on, that’s an advantage for us,” Branch said. “Second, in this series, is timely hitting. This is not going to be a high-scoring game. Both teams are sound defensively.”
The winner of tonight’s one game playoff will move on to take on the Douglass/Lovelady winner in the regional semifinals next week. Douglass and Lovelady play on Saturday at Morris Frank Park in Lufkin after Elkhart and Warren.
ELKHART vs. Warren
Morris Frank Park, Lufkin
The Elkhart baseball team has played only two series in this year’s playoffs, and both times the Elks have been put in win-or-go-home situations.
The Elks dropped Game 1 to Hemphill in the bi-district round, before falling in Game 2 to Gladewater Sabine in the area round.
In both losses, EHS coach John Adair didn’t feel like his team gave close to a solid performance. That’s something that needs to change.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about,” he said. “You do that enough, it’s going to end up costing you. Our focus is to go out and play good baseball. We’ve had two games in the six we played where we didn’t play good baseball.”
The Elks open up their best-of-three series with Warren at 7 p.m. Friday at Morris Frank Park, and Adair will send Jordan White to the mound to try and capture Game 1.
The outcome of Game 1 will dictate the rest of the pitching rotation for the Elks, who are looking to return to the state tournament for the second-straight season.
Game 2 will be at 1 p.m. Saturday back at Morris Frank, with Game 3 to follow if necessary.
Sports Editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org