With the Class 4A Region II semifinal series shifted to Richards Park the Waxahachie Indians used home field advantage to win game two 4-2 Saturday before taking a 2-1 lead through four innings in the series-deciding game three against Rockwall-Heath, the state’s ninth-ranked team.
A three-run home run off the bat of Heath cleanup hitter Jovan Hernandez gave the Hawks a 4-2 lead that proved to be enough as Heath won game three 5-3 to advance to the Region II final against No. 8 Mesquite Poteet.
“I got exactly what I thought I was going to get effort-wise. I knew the series was not over, I knew we had a chance,” Waxahachie head coach Tracy Wood said. “We won game two and fought back in game three but the three-run home run was the difference in the ball game.”
Hernandez’ second three-run blast of the series gave Heath its first lead in 11 innings at Richards Park Saturday before a sacrifice fly off the bat of Kyle McLeroy cut Heath’s lead to one, 4-3.
Heath (35-7-1) reached on an error with one away in the top of the sixth before flying out to Waxahachie center fielder Michael Bosch for the second out in the inning.
A grounder up the middle turned into a Heath run as the relay throw to first sailed out of play into the Waxahachie dugout, pushing across Heath’s fifth run.
With the two-run lead, Heath coach Greg Harvey brought in ace Jake Thompson for the final six outs.
Thompson, the winning pitcher in game one with 10 strike outs, worked a perfect sixth before McLeroy singled with two away in the bottom of the seventh to give the Indians a chance.
Only a junior, Thompson showed poise of a seasoned veteran, throwing three strikes to end the Waxahachie threat.
“There is nothing negative about today. I have been in some big ones and have been around awhile but I have never seen a group turn it around like these guys turned it around. I have never seen anything like it,” Wood said. “I am as proud of these guys as any team I have ever been a part of. These guys fought all the way. What a great way to end it for our seniors, they fought until the end. When they look back they are going to understand what they accomplished.”
Waxahachie’s impressive run came to an end two rounds short of state with a final record of 29-14 after the team was buried at the midway point in the race to the playoffs.
Faced with a must-win situation, the Indians won eight straight District 15-4A games to reach the playoffs before upsetting District 16-4A champ Pflugerville Hendrickson in three, knocking off Sherman in two and sweeping Hallsville to set up the series with Heath.
McLeroy took the mound for game two Saturday as the Indians faced a familiar must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive. The senior southpaw delivered with another strong performance as he threw 98 pitches, 44 for strikes, in seven innings while striking out five a game after holding Hallsville hitless through five in a 10-0 shutout.
With two away in the bottom of the first, McLeroy got the Waxahachie offense going with a single to left before senior Jeremy Escobar pinch-ran for the pitcher.
Escobar stole second and scored on a single to right off the bat of senior Cameron Phillips to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Waxahachie added two more in the bottom of the third as McLeroy doubled to the right-center field gap leading off the inning before Escobar scored on a double to right by Phillips.
Heath pitcher Caleb Copley retired the next two Indians before senior third baseman Cody Brown singled to deep second giving Waxahachie a 3-0 lead.
Thompson connected on his second home run of the series in the top of the fourth to cut Waxahachie’s lead to one, 3-2, before the Indians added an insurance run in the sixth.
Senior catcher Chase Rudolph singled to left leading off the sixth before being replaced on the bases by senior pinch-runner Alec Johnson. A sacrifice bunt by Ryan Cawthon moved Johnson to second before Bosch singled to center.
With runners on the corners, senior second baseman Seth Sims dropped down a bunt that was picked up in front of the mound and tossed home. The throw home was late as Johnson scored and Sims reached first safely.
Rudolph finished the game 3-for-3 for the Indians while McLeroy was 3-for-4 with two doubles. Phillips was 2-for-4 with two RBI and Sims was 2-for-4 with one RBI as the Indians outhit Heath 13-3.
Reaching deep into their pitching rotations, Waxahachie and Heath trotted out their No. 3 starters for the series-clinching game three.
Waxahachie junior Ryan Cawthon took the mound opposing Heath junior Jake Baxter and was staked to an early lead as the Indians scored one in the bottom of the first on a single to right by sophomore short stop David Martinelli.
Heath picked up its first hit off Cawthon in the third and tied the game on a controversial balk before the Indians retook the lead in the bottom of the inning.
Bosch led off the bottom half with a double down the third base line before moving to third on a sacrifice bunt by Sims. McLeroy lifted a ball to shallow left that was deep enough for Bosch to score the go-ahead run.
After walking Heath leadoff hitter Austin Stewart to begin the fifth, Cawthon was relieved of his pitching duties in favor of Phillips.
Phillips picked up a quick out before pitching around Thompson.
Hernandez made the Indians pay for pitching around the slugging Thompson as he broke out of a 1-for-5 slump by taking the first pitch from Phillips over the left field wall.
Waxahachie outhit Heath 6-5 in the final but costly errors proved the difference in a tight game.
Phillips was 2-for-4 at the plate for Waxahachie while McLeroy was 1-for-1 with two RBI. Rudolph, Martinelli and Bosch also had hits in the game.
Phillips threw 47 pitches in three innings, allowing two earned runs, striking out two, walking one and allowing two hits. Cawthon allowed three hits in four innings while throwing 73 pitches, allowing one earned run, striking out two.
In the two games, Phillips was 4-for-8 with two RBI in the cleanup spot for the Indians while McLeroy was 4-for-5 with two RBI and Rudolph was 4-for-6.