GRANDVIEW, Texas — Maypearl's defense faced nearly every conceivable playoff situation — run-scoring balks, critical game-changing errors, clutch hitting and backbreaking late-game pressure — in eight innings of high school baseball.
In a gritty game full of crucial mistakes by both sides, though, the Panthers came out relatively clean as a whistle.
With Zebra Field's high school bleacher stands packed on both sides, Maypearl and Grandview turned Tuesdays 7-6 rivalry battle for sole control of the District 17-3A lead into an instant classic.
"The rivalry games are always fun, but it was good to play competitive playoff-level baseball regardless of whether it was against Grandview or not," Panther Head Coach Brian Bilbrey said.
The fact that Head Coach Ryan Ebner and Grandview (14-2, 4-1) were the No. 4 3A baseball team in the state per TexasHighSchoolBaseball.com's current Top 25 State Poll and No. 5 in its preseason rankings only intensified the in-game pressure.
"We needed a situation like this one — one that forced us to continue to compete and play excellent baseball," Bilbrey continued. "Anytime you are battling for first in the district and you've got this type of emotion and energy, you've got a playoff atmosphere."
Though Maypearl outhit Grandview by more than a half-dozen hits, the latter used its seven total earned bases to first batter their way back into the game, then take the lead during the pendulum-like swings of the matchup.
While the Panthers took an early two-run lead in the top of the first inning after Robert Pinter scored on a wild pitch and Luis Dermas singled and stole home, the Zebras rallied. They scored one run in the bottom of the first, held Maypearl scoreless after Brownlow got Tanir Horton to ground out and struck out back-to-back batters and took the lead during a three-run second inning after Luke Wenstrup's double scored Jake Goodman and Zach Hahn.
Each team dealt their pitching aces into the proverbial pot and cashed in runs via their most clutch batters, but in the end, heroics were needed to seal first place in District 17-3A for one of the undefeated teams.
The performances by the teams' four pitchers, like their undefeated district records, was eerily mirror-like.
Lonnie Brooks and Dakota Davis, the eventual game winner, threw 133 pitches, struck out 11 batters and allowed six runs on eight hits behind senior catcher Tanir Horton's pitch framing. The two also committed four errors and walked two batters.
Brownlow and Seth Bauerschlag, the game's losing pitcher, threw 144 pitches, struck out 11 batters and allowed seven runs on 17 hits. The Grandview duo also committed four errors and walked two batters.
The difference, however, came in how the pitcher's errors directly impacted the landscape of the game.
One of Grandview's mistakes — a dropped ball on a routine infield pop fly to Brownlow — helped Maypearl take a two-run lead in the fourth inning.
While Grandview battled back from Maypearl's three-run surge in the fourth courtesy of RBI from Pinter and Sam Taylor and deadlocked the game at six runs apiece, the Panthers broke the stalemate with a single crack of the bat.
Brooks' game-changing, 3-1-count homer in the top of the seventh inning.
"That's just what we do," said Dermas, Maypearl's starting shortstop. "It's our identity as a team and what we thrive on. When we need them, we pull together and get hits. There's no telling where they're going to come from, but it always does."
Pinter and Kenneth McGinn led Maypearl with respective 3-for-4 performances from the plate while Brooks, Davis, Dermas, Horton and Taylor each collected multiple hits. Cole Maxwell added a single in the fourth inning.
And while the first four innings were a pitcher's duel between Brooks and Brownlow and the final four were more about each hurler's battles — or non-battles — with the edges of a consistently shifting strike zone.
The second of three balks against Maypearl came after Davis walked Hahn and the third — in a mere four batters — came with two outs and the Zebras down 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning and scored Hahn. Despite Davis stifling the heart of Grandview's order and working his way through its back end, the two balks and a Joe Hudson RBI single pushed the game into extra innings.
That's when 'Pearl settled, found it's mettle and called on the big bats of its five-tool utility leadoff boy, its uber-athletic shortstop and the run-stopping arm talent of its staff ace.
"Robert's been a little spark plug for us all year," Bilbrey said. "He really came in, took charge of the position and really ran with it. He's owned it. Luis seemingly makes big plays for us, no matter how big the moment and Dakota's our guy and the one people look to and try to keep up with in terms of work ethic. It showed tonight. They were doing what they do and helping the team get a win."
Bauerschlag, who came in during the seventh inning in relief, punched out back-to-back batters but gave up singles to Pinter, who hammered a single through the second and third base gap, and Davis, who sent a ball careening over the outstretched glove of the second baseman.
With two outs and the go-ahead runner at second, Dermas earned arguably his biggest hit of the season on the game's brightest moment.
"I was just trying to find a hole and drive him in," Dermas said about his game-winning double through the exact same gap Pinter singled a batter before. "I didn't see anything, it just happened. The ball just slowed down enough for me to get the head of the bat on it. I'm just glad it went through the gap and not into a glove."
Davis needed 15 pitches in the eighth inning — despite putting the tying run on first after hitting Goodman — to strike out 3 of 4 batters and make Maypearl the undisputed leader in the district.
The (8-6, 5-0) Panthers will close the first round of district play when they face Blooming Grove High School at 7 p.m. at BHS Lion Field. The (7-12, 2-2) Lions beat Keene High School 3-2 in an extra inning on Friday.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI