MELISSA — The Pottsboro bats did just enough and thanks to a trio of senior arms, the Cardinals were able to rally and survive a first-round upset bid by Bells.
Cooper Lyons got the nod in the deciding contest, after pitching in relief in Game 2, and allowed a run on five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks and he helped himself with a pair of RBI singles as the Cardinals defeated Bells, 4-1, in Game 3 of a Class 3A Region II bi-district series on Friday night.
Pottsboro (22-5) advances to face Edgewood in the area round this week.
Lyons and classmates Coby Langford and Hayden Kent threw all but the final two innings of the series — junior Jasek Hooker earned the save by retiring the final six he faced following a leadoff walk in the sixth.
“All three seniors pitched extremely well,” Pottsboro head coach Tyler Smith said. “Jasek, he’s used to starting but he was ready to shut it down.”
Tanner Carter, one of four sophomores in the Panthers lineup, made his first varsity appearance on the mound and acquitted himself very well against the 9-3A champs while Lane Brown added an RBI double for Bells (18-10), which went to the 2A Region II final before moving up in realignment and needed to replace five starters, including a pair of all-state selections.
“To jump up from 2A to 3A and draw them and play the way we did, I’m full of pride,” first-year Bells head coach Kent Craig said. “We were in every single game and had a chance. For us to do what we did and the kids to play like they did was phenomenal. It’s something to build on.”
After Bells won the opener, Pottsboro rallied by holding Bells to a single run over the final two games.
“For your guys to be challenged like this and respond like that, I think it will come in handy in the long run,” Smith said. “The bats got going a little more than we did in the first game. We’ll get back in the cage a lot this week, get that confidence back.”
The Cardinals had a chance in the seventh to widen the gap. Jake Williams doubled off the base of the left-field wall and then Hooker singled to center and took second on the throw to the plate. Jacob Monroe came on for the Panthers and struck out the side around a two-out walk to Langford that left the bases loaded.
Pottsboro was able to tack on some insurance runs in the sixth. Robert Goins walked, moved up on a groundout and scored on Lyons’ single through the right side. A two-out error allowed another run to cross the plate and the Cards went up 4-1.
For the second straight inning the Panthers had a runner at third but were unable to get him home. Hooker relieved Lyons to start the sixth and Carter walked before two groundouts put him at third. A strikeout allowed the Cardinals’ advantage to remain at three.
Monroe led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to left. A pair of groundouts moved him over to third before Lyons handled a comebacker for the final out to keep Pottsboro in front.
Carter exited after walking Grayson Watson to open the fifth inning. He allowed two runs on three hits with a strikeout, two walks and hit a batter.
Kason Huschke came on and worked around a two-out walk to Hooker to keep the margin at one.
Following a rocky first inning, Lyons settled into a groove by retiring eight straight with six of them on strikeouts – although one allowed Matthew Conner to reach before he was caught stealing second.
The Panthers were able to break through when had back-to-back one-out singles from Carter and Keaton High in the fourth. Brown pulled an RBI double into the left-field corner to cut the deficit in half. Lyons limited the damage with a strikeout and then Huschke hit a chopper back to him and he threw to the plate for the tag as the final out.
Bells loaded the bases in the bottom of the first inning but couldn’t push across a run. Monroe reached on an error to lead off the frame and stole second. He was erased on a fielder’s choice before Landon Nelson singled and Carter reached on an error. High grounded out near second base as Hooker ranged up the middle and got the flip to the bag for the inning-ending forceout.
Pottsboro jumped right in front during the top of the first. Hooker walked and stole second with one out, Goins was hit by a pitch with two outs and Langford singled past a diving try from Huschke at third to make in 1-0.
Lyons helped his own cause by dunking an RBI single into left center but the Cardinals lost a shot at a bigger inning when Conner threw out Langford trying to get to get to third on the play, denying Pottsboro runners at the corners.