MAYPEARL — The last time the Palmer and Maypearl varsity high schools’ baseball teams met on a baseball field, the game was out of the Panthers’ collective hands by the time the fourth inning ended.
An improved effort by the Maypearl Panthers team ensured Palmer High School had to earn its sixth win in district play. Palmer’s Bulldogs survived furious rallies behind sterling pitching performances and a gutsy seventh inning by junior Gunnar Barnes, beating Maypearl High School 4-3 on Tuesday at Panther Field.
The win, which improved PHS’ record to 6-0 in 12-3A and 14-5-2 overall and dropped Maypearl to 3-3 and fourth place in district standings, marked the first real challenge — other than their matchup against Sunnyvale High School — the Bulldogs have had all season, said Bo Moore, the Bulldogs first-year head baseball coach, about the valuable lesson their county rivals taught them.
The Bulldogs, outside of those two games, have won by an average margin of six runs and have scored four or more runs during 15 of the last 21 games.
“In reality, we needed a game like that because we hadn’t had one in a while,” Moore continued. “It’s something we talk about every day. In the playoffs, it’s not going to be easy. I tell the kids ‘you’ve got to learn to put it on people.’ I think we had a chance to make the score more than 2-0 through three innings and we didn’t (against Maypearl).
“The talent’s here. When you look at the history of Palmer baseball and the banners on the wall, you realize it’s always been here. It’s about the mental side of the game. In my opinion, that’s the biggest thing that makes a team that’s third, fourth or fifth year in and year out go to state every year. It’s the mentality of wanting to score one or two runs an inning and not being satisfied with three or four runs in a game we have to get to. Tonight it was enough, but it might not have been on another night.”
Handing them the first true test of the season could be a bit of an understatement by Moore, however.
Maypearl senior Miles Smith frustrated Bulldog batters with precision pitches, holding Palmer scoreless during the first three innings and striking out two during that period.
The Panthers bats, though equally as hot as Palmer’s, came intermittently and not soon enough.
Despite hits by junior Tanir Horton (3), Miles Smith (1) and Cade Kids(1) — whose fifth-inning single helped deadlock the score at two — the Panthers failed to score when opportunities arose.
“You’re going to have adversity every game, but you’ve got to keep competing. You’ve got to win every pitch and at-bat,” Panthers head coach Brian Bilbrey said. “I feel bad for the guys. To lose the game the way we did after the way they battled back and as hard as they competed, we’re all taking it pretty hard. We have to pick ourselves up and go back to work tomorrow.”
Bilbrey said the loss, however unfortunate, most likely puts them out of the race for the district title and in line to compete for third place when the season comes to a close.
Despite committing more errors than the Panthers, the Bulldogs held their opponents scoreless in every inning except the fifth. The combination of pitching aces Barnes, senior Brock Figueroa and sophomore Shawn Medina can be credited for a lion’s share of Maypearl lack of run production.
Figeroa struck out 10 batters in five innings, Medina struck out two in two innings and Barnes allowed a single hit and no runs during his one inning of work and fourth win of the season.
Despite the rivalry between the teams, Barnes gave tribute to the Panthers fighting spirit.
“I just trusted my pitching coach and tried to hit my spots,” he said, voice still trembling because of the pressure of closing out the down-to-the-wire district game. “They (Maypearl) hit a lot better this time. Brock was dealing as always, but they put up some big hits against us and capitalized on some mistakes. It was up to us to settle down, play defense and close out a very good team.”