WHITNEY, Texas — Maypearl nor Head Baseball Coach Brian Bilbrey are much for theatrics. They are a self-described salt-of-the-earth group that prides itself more on grind-it-out victories than blowout routs.
Though they weren't much for theatrics, they made an exception to the rule with a walk-off hit during Friday night's 2-1 regional quarterfinal finish against Groesbeck High School at Wildcat Field.
"I came at it so high that I wasn't sure if it was in play," said Kenneth McGinn, the Panthers' junior starting first baseman. "I looked down and saw it was in and took off toward first [base]. I'm just glad Tanir (Horton) turned third and kept running."
McGinn's squeeze bunt and the Goats' corresponding error, as well as Horton's streak across the plate, broke the deadlock, handed Dakota Davis the final bullet needed to win a pitcher's duel between him and Groesbeck's Chandler Boyd and sent the entire Maypearl bench storming onto the field.
"Heck of a way to win a ballgame and a lot of fun," Bilbrey said, readjusting his cap after parent after parent patted him on the shoulder and offered a heartfelt "Thanks, Coach."
Many in the 529-acre city of Maypearl hadn't seen a baseball team reach the regional tournament since the 2004-05 Panthers lost 3-1 to Holliday High School in the 2A state semifinal series. Sweeping Groesbeck's Goats claimed a place in the history books with the deepest run on the 3A level.
"Everybody played a part, but first and foremost, it was Dakota and Lonnie (Brooks). They gave us a chance," Bilbrey continued. "This as good of a hitting team as you'll see in the state and that's what they do. They are ranked because of their hitting. For those two come into the series and give up one run in two nights set the tone for the rest to play their roles. "
While Davis struck out seven batters with 81 pitches and allowed six hits in a complete game performance, Boyd was nearly as sterling. He struck out seven batters and allowed six hits with 103 pitches.
Despite Mitchell Waller earning the only extra-base hit of the game — his second in two games — Davis held Groesbeck to seven quality at-bats from Mark Smith (2), Bradley Wilson (2), Grant Johnson, Dylan Rand and Waller in 25 plate appearances. Rand and Smith's fourth-inning singles earned the Goats' lone run of the game.
Outside of pitch counts, though, the two pitchers' final lines were nearly identical — except in one area. Boyd faltered only twice after a Robert Pinter's first-inning leadoff single and McGinn's seventh-inning dribbler down the first-base line.
One began the charge at the crack of the bat and the other ended it with Horton's emphatic, leaping double stomp on home plate.
"I just try to come in and attack the ball and waste as many pitches as I can," said Pinter, who finished 2-for-2 at the plate and scored one of Maypearl's two runs. "Once I get the hit, my teammates back me up and put me in scoring position. We came in knowing we needed to get to him early because this was a good team that won their district and ranked No. 5 in the state. That's how you beat aces and projected state champions — get to them early and take advantage of opportunities when they come your way."
"It set the tone. Robert's hit was just a continuation of last night," Bilbrey added. "We had a good night offensively with 13 hits and Robert comes in and gets a base hit right away. We had a couple more hits in the first inning and one that, if their centerfielder doesn't make an outstanding play, scores two or three more. We didn't expect the error on their part but we knew all we needed was to get Tanir on base because he's going to create some chaos because of his baserunning."
Maypearl, which sealed its place in one of the four regional tournament series, awaits the winner between Pollock Central and Kirbyville High Schools.
The winners of the Region 3 Franklin-Grandview and Central Heights-Danbury High School and four Region 1 Presidio-Reagan County, Holliday-Peaster, Brock-Jacksboro and Littlefield-Wall matchups will round out the regional semifinal round.
There are only five of the top 25 teams in 3A Texas baseball still in the playoffs. Central Heights is No. 1 on TXHighSchoolBaseball.com's top 25 polls. Brock is No. 3, Grandview is No. 8, Wall is No. 9 and Peaster is No. 25. Danbury, Littlefield, Maypearl, Presidio and Regan County are all unranked.
Maypearl eliminated No. 5 Groesbeck and No. 24 Clifton in the area and regional semifinal rounds.
"You want to think that if you can get into the playoffs and put yourself in a position to get a one or two seed, there's a chance to make a run," Bilbrey said. "To be able to do it in the way they've been able to do it — walk off tonight and a walk-off last week — shows how unpredictable the postseason is. Coming out of the Brock tournament, nobody gave us a chance."
Horton's walk-off single helped the Panthers down Clifton 2-1 in game two of the area round and sent Maypearl to the regional semifinal round for the first time since 2010.
"For us to hit the reset button and get better every day shows how far they've come," Bilbrey added. "The boys deserve all the credit because they're the ones sacrificing and putting in the work. We can't say we expected this coming into district play given our rough start. Maypearl hasn't been here in more than 10 years. We planned on trying to do this and put ourselves in a good position to do so but to see everything work out the way it has is nice. We're going to enjoy this one — and so will the city — for a while. Then we'll get ready for whoever our opponent is in round four."
Kirbyville, which went 25-7 overall and 14-0 in District 23-3A and won the first game of its series 8-1 Friday in Jasper, is on a 20-game win streak and in not ranked by TXHighSchoolBaseball.com.
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI