PLANO — For the second straight week, the Denison Yellow Jackets faced the pressure of having to sweep a Saturday series to keep their season alive.
And for the second straight weekend, Denison answered the challenge and held off a late-inning charge to defeat Fort Worth Arlington Heights, 2-1, on a windy Saturday at John Paul II High School.
“It was a great game and a great series,” Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said. “Our guys just never give up and they have a lot of fight in them. They're going to keep playing until they get that final out.”
Denison (21-13) will face Colleyville Heritage in the regional quarterfinals this week. It is the first time that Denison has advanced to the third round since making the state tournament in 1992. At the time the third round was the region semifinals.
“We never quit,” pitcher Austin Emery said. “We just told ourselves that we needed to win the first game and carried that momentum. That's what we've been able to do.”
Just like its sweep against Azle, the deciding game was a pitcher's duel between Emery and Joshua Campos of Arlington Heights (24-9) as the first three innings of the deciding game were scoreless.
Both teams applied some pressure in the fourth as Arlington Heights put two runners on base with two out but Emery was able to induce a pop-up to end the inning. The bottom half of the inning proved to be a breakthrough for Denison.
After loading the bases with two singles and a walk, a Carson Auten fly ball to right field was deep enough to score Christian Ruebeck for the first run.
Denison was able to strike again in the bottom half of the fifth inning. After Seth Thomas reached on an error and a Ruebeck single, Wilson Kirkbride lined a single to right field to score Thomas. Ruebeck was called at home trying to score to end the inning.
After being retired in order in the fifth and sixth innings, Arlington Heights made one last push to try and even the game like it did Friday night.
Arlington Heights scored on a single from Caleb Rodriguez to bring the margin within one and then able to put the go-ahead run on base.
After a brief visit on the mound, Emery settled in to face Luke Hawthorne. On a 1-1 count, Hawthorne popped a fly ball into foul territory that Thomas secured for the final out to begin the celebration.
Emery, who earned the 1-0 victory in Game 3 against Azle, finished with eight strikeouts and gave up five hits on 102 pitches.
“Austin just does what he always does,” Bollinger said. “He just stays calm, composed and kept us in the game today. He did a heck of a job.”
Thomas was 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored and Dalton Souther went 2-for-3 as Denison avoided elimination with a 4-1 victory to start the day.
Denison scored all four runs in the first inning starting with a pair of two-run singles from Ruebeck and Auten.
Arlington Heights scored its lone run in the third inning on a sacrifice fly from Andres Rios. Ruebeck earned the victory by striking out seven and giving up one run on three hits.
“This run makes it a special season,” Emery said. “The team has been talking about leaving a legacy for other guys after us and to do this is big.”
After Denison tied the series opener with two runs in the top of the seventh, Arlington Heights earned the walk-off 3-2 victory in the bottom of the inning.
Wilson Kirkbride was 2-for-3 with a double, walked and drove in a run, Cam Wheeler was 2-for-3, Luke Kirkbride singled and walked twice, Ruebeck singled and scored and Zander Ramey did not allow an earned run on three hits in six innings for Denison.
Arlington Heights took a 2-0 lead in the fifth and then Denison pulled even on an RBI double by Wilson Kirkbride and Ruebeck scored on a two-out passed ball.
The winning run came on a one-out passed ball.