HOWE — The fickle nature of the early district schedule as well as Mother Nature were able to slow the Panthers’ momentum just a bit.
Van Alstyne was the first team to have the bye in the 10-3A schedule and then as the team was in the middle of five wins in six games, including three straight to capture the Madill-Whitesboro Tournament title, the rain wouldn’t go away. And so the Panthers’ next opportunity to hit the field was postponed…and postponed…and postponed again.
By the time a field had dried out enough, Van Alstyne was idle for nearly a week. The layoff nearly cost them but Samuel Tormos struck out 10 while Rhett Gallagher had a hand in all but one run and then picked up the save as the Panthers defeated Howe, 5-3, in district action on Friday night.
“I felt like with all the rain, we’d have a little trouble,” Van Alstyne head coach Jimmy Haynes said. “We hadn’t been on the field in what seemed like forever. I thought it showed tonight.”
Gallagher went 3-for-4 with a double, drove in two runs and scored twice while Jordan Caldwell had the only other hit for Van Alstyne (9-3, 2-0).
Jalen Thornton homered and Dyson Dillard added an RBI double for Howe (4-9, 0-2), which finished with just four hits of its own but all went for extra bases.
Tormos and Mason Riggs went toe-to-toe into the sixth inning, each working out of early trouble.
“Mason’s been good all four years against us. He’s always tough,” Haynes said. “He’s such a competitor.”
Van Alstyne put the game’s first batter on base when Tyler Wilson reached on catcher’s interference and Tormos walked with two outs but Wilson was thrown out at third by Dillard trying to advance on a wild pitch.
Howe also had a pair of first-inning base runners. Kyler Anderson was hit by a pitch with one out and stole second before Dylan Hughs walked. A forceout put runners at the corners and Tormos, who is committed to the University of Houston, escaped unscathed with a strikeout.
The Bulldogs jumped in front the next inning with back-to-back doubles. Garret Johnson hooked his into the left-field corner with one out and then scored on Dillard’s two-bagger into the left-center gap. Tormos picked off courtesy runner Lane Stracener to keep the damage to a minimum.
Howe only put one runner on over the next three innings and after Riggs walked to lead off the fourth, courtesy runner Jake Catching was picked off first.
Van Alstyne took the lead for good in the third. Back-to-back one-out walks from Wilson and Nathan Cuthbertson set the table for Gallagher, who pulled a single into right field to tie the game. Tormos walked to load the bases and Zack Smith reached on catcher’s interference to force in a run.
David Terrill walked with two outs to make it a 3-1 advantage and Riggs, who allowed three hits, struck out nine and walked six in five and a third innings, induced a groundout to keep the deficit there.
The Panthers went up 4-1 the following inning when Cuthbertson walked with two outs, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Gallagher’s single to right.
Tormos had struck out four straight before Thornton connected on a home run to left leading off the sixth to cut the deficit in half. Anderson followed with a double to right center when Caldwell couldn’t make a sliding catch. He moved up on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch to get the Bulldogs within a run.
Riggs, who had walked, moved to third as Anderson scored but was stranded as the tying run on Tormos’ final strikeout of the night and the final Bulldog to reach base.
Van Alstyne tacked on an insurance run in the seventh. Gallagher doubled to shallow left center and stole third base. The Panthers then tried a squeeze and the throw to third got away and trickled into the outfield, allowing Gallagher to come home.
“Missed a squeeze and we were lucky,” Haynes said. “Sometimes we can come out and be really, really good and other times we miss signals, miss chances to score.”
Gallagher then came on in the seventh and retired the side in order for the save.
In district action on Saturday, Van Alstyne Chandler David allowed an earned run on five hits with 13 strikeouts and a a walk and also was 2-for-3 and drove in a run during a 12-2 victory in six innings at Leonard.
Van Alstyne has allowed three or fewer runs in 10 of the 12 games so far this season.
“Sam and C.D. are our 1-2 and Rhett’s the closer,” Haynes said. “We feel like we have the pitching that can match up with anybody.”
Tormos was 2-for-3 with a double, triple, five RBI and scored twice, Zach Smith was 2-for-2 with a double, drove in a run and scored, Cuthbertson walked twice and scored twice and Wilson singled, walked and scored twice.
Dalton Tonubbee tripled, drove in a run and scored and Ty Ashworth was 2-for-3 and scored for Leonard.