RED OAK — Less than two months ago, some thought it was highly unlikely for Red Oak High School to grab the brass ring that is the 10-5A lead — especially with state-ranked Waxahachie, tough and balanced Mansfield Lake Ridge High School and underrated Mansfield Legacy and Midlothian High Schools sharing the same district space.
Forty-one days later, though, the No. 25 Hawks inexplicably leapfrogged the other seven teams in their district into first place position after Tuesday's 5-4 victory against Mansfield Legacy at Bronco Field.
Perhaps not as inexplicably as it may seem.
Red Oak (17-3-2, 6-1) has won six straight games since falling to texashighschoolbaseball.com No. 10 Waxahachie on March 17. During that stretch, they outdueled 6-foot-9 left-handed Texas Christian University commit Russ Smith and conquered Lancaster, Mansfield Lake Ridge and Mansfield Summit in back-to-back-to-back games.
At times it was the red-hot bats of Brandon Gibson, Lance Milke or Jordan Trotter that won the day and held the red streak together. Other times, it was ace-level pitching by staff ace Erik Gipson, near-second Chase Jennings and lockdown closer Ronnie Iracheta that made the difference between a victory and streak-stunting loss.
Though contributions came in various forms, they were present in each critical step of the win streak as Red Oak faced team after team that could be considered owners of the best talents in the state.
On Tuesday, Red Oak added to its regular season resume by stumping three-sport, uber-athlete Jalen Catalon and Mansfield Legacy. The boy better known for his work on the football field as the Broncos' rangy safety, allowed five runs on six hits, walked two batters and struck out four.
One of his three errors — a fourth-inning balk — set up a Wren Hampton sacrifice fly that scored Alec Loera and a Brady Faulkner ground ball-turned-error-turned RBI that scored Danny Garza and pushed the lead to 4-1.
Loera, Bryant Bailey and Joey Rodriguez shelled both Catalon and two-inning relief pitcher Payton Cathey for six hits on individual 2-for-3 performances at the plate. Bailey led the Hawks in RBI and Faulkner and Trotter added a leadoff double and a first-inning single to the mix.
While Catalon found outs difficult to come by against the hard-hitting Hawks offense, Chase Jennings, the game's winner, was electric in 5.1 innings of work. He allowed two runs on six hits while striking out four batters and walking a trio of Broncos with 102 pitches.
Iracheta, who pitched 1.2 innings of relief, threw 19 pitches and allowed two runs on a single hit. Mansfield Legacy's David Vargas was the only Bronco with more than one hit and at least one RBI.
Only Catalon, Bryson Collins, Damian Munoz, Nathan Rooney and Carter Steenbakkers logged a hit — the most damaging of the remaining five being Steenbakkers' base hit off Iracheta that pulled the Broncos within a run with two outs in the seventh inning.
While the win dropped Mansfield Legacy (15-6, 5-2) to second place in the district standings, Red Oak remained in a two-team deadlock with neighboring Waxahachie for the district until Mansfield Lake Ridge struck, upset the state-ranked Indians 6-2 at Richards Park and changed the 10-5A landscape.
The road to the district title for the Hawks is still riddled with obstacles and challenges, starting with Friday's 7 p.m. matchup with Mansfield Timberview at Wolf Field. The (13-12-2, 4-3) Wolves beat Mansfield Lake Ridge 3-2 Saturday and Midlothian 1-0 on March 17.
They will play a rematch against the (22-6, 5-2) Indians three days later at Buddy Groom Field.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.