By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Tigers opened up the inaugural Texas UIL Class 6A Baseball Playoffs with a best-of-three series against the Tyler Robert E. Lee Red Raiders.
The Tigers swept the Raiders, with a 6-1, rain-delayed win on Friday in Belton and 6-5, 10-inning thriller in Tyler on Saturday.
The wins extended the Tigers’ winning streak to 18 games and moved the team on to the area round (second round) of the playoffs, as they will take on Irving Nimitz. The Vikings defeated Richardson Pearce 2-0 in a one-game playoff. The playoff series will be detailed the second part of the series recap.
Game one of the series was delayed with thunderstorms and rain for nearly two hours. When the game got underway, Lee broke into the scoring column first. Parker Bates singled, advanced to second base on an errant pickoff attempt. Starting Lee pitcher Garrett Hudson singled home Bates to put the Red Raiders out front 1-0.
Lee loaded the bases in the second inning with one out before Belton starting pitcher Tanner Frick struck out Kade Keener and Parker Bramlett, energizing the Tigers crowd.
In the bottom of the third, Shane Stafford singled and advanced to second on a throw by catcher Marc Schwarz. Brandon Rudy beat out a sacrifice bunt, advancing Shane to third base. Coby Potvin walked to load the bases. Miguel Quinones hit a one-hop liner to first baseman to Henry Smith at first. Smith threw a throw to home plate, off line and pulled Schwarz off the plate, scoring Shane to tie the score at 1-1. A pitch hit Hobey Hiland, scoring Rudy, put the Tigers on top 2-1. Jacob Alexander walked to force in Potvin to make the score 3-1.
Quinones demonstrated in the fourth inning why he is one of the best shortstops in the area today. Following a walk to Jacob Romines, Jonathan Randall hit a liner up the middle, which Quinones grabbed going to hit glove hand side, touched second and flung a throw to first base that Chase Sortor did the splits to retrieve a first to just get Randall at first. A beautiful 6-3 double play provided the Tigers more fuel.
Nathan Vail started the bottom of the fifth by wearing a pitch to get on base. Hiland’s perfectly placed sacrificed bunt not only moved Vail to second, it landed Hiland on first. Alexander followed up with a sacrifice bunt to move Hiland and Vail to second and third respectively. Sortor hit a 1-1 pitch into the left-centerfield gap, clearing the bases and landing him on second base. The double gave the Tigers a 5-1 lead. Sortor scored on Shane Stafford’s single and increased Belton’s lead to five.
Frick continued to pitch well, pitching himself out of a jam in the sixth inning, stranding Red Raider runners on second and third. Two runners reached in the top of the seventh before Dustin Tish struck out Mitchell Ne’Jam to end the ballgame.
The scene shifted three hours northeastward to Tyler’s Mike Carter Field for game two.
Bramlett singled and Hudson singled him home to put Lee on top 1-0. Romines and Randall singled, while Schwarz added an RBI ground-rule double increase the lead to 2-0.
Lee’s game two starter Daniel Bogue had Tiger’s number for three-and-a-third innings, striking out three and getting four putouts from second baseman Keener and three from shortstop Bramlett. Trent Stafford broke up Bogue’s perfect-game attempt with a line-shot to left field for a single with one out in the fourth. A pitch hit vail and Hiland hit into a fielder’s choice to the Bogue, who threw to Randall at third to force out Trent at third. Alexander’s single scored Vail to cut the Red Raiders’ lead in half. Sortor came through again for the Tigers, hitting a two-run double and giving Belton a 3-2 lead.
The Tigers shook up the Red Raiders for two runs in the fifth inning. With two outs, Potvin reached base with an infield single and Trent Stafford singled to left field, driving Bogue from the ballgame in favor of Henry Smith. Vail and Hiland each greeted Smith with RBI singles, scoring Potvin and courtesy runner B.P. White, giving the Tigers a 5-2 lead.
Lee answered the bell in the bottom of the fifth inning, as they equaled Belton’s fifth-inning output. Bramlett and Bates each singled, knocking Tigers’ starter Tish from the ballgame after four good innings, Trent Stafford relieved Tish and was greeted with a two-run double by Hudson to make the score 5-4. Trent shut down the next three hitters to keep the score in check.
Smith retired the Tigers in order in the top of the sixth inning. Schwarz doubled in the bottom of the inning and was courtesy run for by Colton Kerr. Bramlett singled in Kerr to tie the game at 5-5.
The Tigers were unable to score in the seventh inning, setting up Lee for an opportunity to win in the bottom of the seventh inning. Hudson singled and Luke Hamilton walked to give the Red Raiders at first and second. Jacob Kuehn sacrificed the runners to second and third respectively with one out, Trent struck out Romines and got Randall to fly out to Quinones, fielding the fly on the run from his shortstop position in short left field to send the game into extra innings.
The Tigers were not able to score Sortor in the eighth inning. Schwarz grounded to Brandon Rudy. Rudy’s throw got by Sortor and Schwarz took off towards second. Alexander backed up the play and fired down to Quinones at second to tag out Schwarz, beating the Lee catcher by 10 feet. Trent got a great catch from his brother Shane retreating and making a diving catch at the base of the warning track for the second out and a grounder to Hiland at third to end the inning.
Tish singled to start the top of the ninth inning; Collin Mask came in to courtesy run and Potvin singled with one out to put runners at first and second. Potvin was forced out at third, setting up an opportunity for Trent with two outs. Trent singled and Mask came around third and appeared to score ahead of the throw, with an athletic, leaping tag at home plate. However, the home plate umpire, out of position on the plate, called Mask out, claiming Schwarz’ tag beat Mask home. The play brought Belton head coach Eddie Cornblum out of the dugout and vehemently voiced his disagreement. The Tigers were enraged in the dugout and the Red Raiders and their fans voiced their joy with the miscall.
Bates singled to start the bottom of the ninth inning for Lee. On next pitch, Bates took off for second. Alexander read the play perfectly and fired down to Quinones at second to get the speedy Bates. Trent was able to pitch his way out of the ninth inning to set up the Tigers in the top of the 10th.
Hiland was hit by the first pitch of the inning from Smith. Alexander sacrificed Hiland to second base and Sortor’s single moved Hiland to third, Reese Hohhertz pinch hit for Shane and popped out to Keener for the second out. Tish singled in Hiland to put the Tigers up 6-5 and brought the Belton fans to their feet.
Trent took the mound in the bottom of the 10th inning struck out Romines, got another great catch from Shane and caught Schwarz looking for the series-clinching strikeout. The game was three hours long and was tense from beginning to end, but the Tigers advanced out of the bi-district round for the first time since 2012.
“The biggest thing I take away from the series is the way the team has gelled together over the past 18 games,” Cornblum said. “Since the beginning of the year, the team has come a long way. There were so many clutch plays in the series, with Dustin Tish’s game-winning hit in the 10th in the second game, Chase Sortor’s two two-run doubles, the defensive play’s with Trent Stafford holding runners at second and third with no outs, Shane Stafford’s great plays in left field and then the big hit that he had. It’s neat how things have come together to this point.
Tigers area round against Irving Nimitz to start off in Georgetown Thursday night.
Belton will host the Irving Nimitz Vikings in the first of the best-of-three series Thursday night at Georgetown East View Field. Game time is 7:30 p.m. The pregame show will be at 7:15 p.m. on KTEM-AM 1400 and KTEMnews.com.
The Tigers will travel to Quik-Trip Park Grand Prairie for the second game on Friday. Game time is 8:30 p.m. The pregame show will be at 8:15 p.m. on KTEM-AM 1400 and KTEMnews.com. The third game, if necessary, will be Saturday afternoon at Quik-Trip Park at 2:00 p.m. The broadcast will begin at 1:55 p.m. on KTEM-AM.