GUNTER — During the first few weeks of the season, the Tigers displayed some hitting potential. But in the month and a half that followed, it remain just that — potential.
Gunter scored at least 12 runs six times in the first 10 contests, but until two weeks ago, the lineup had touched double digits just twice in the next 20 opportunities.
It didn’t look like things would be turning around after the Tigers were shut out in Game 1 of their area round series. But since then, opposing pitchers haven’t been able to keep them off the bases.
“We’re doing the little things right,” junior outfielder Ethan Watson said. “We’re working together better as a team.”
Gunter has scored 10 or more runs in its past four games and looks to carry that hot hitting into another week as the Tigers (26-8) face Big Sandy Harmony (27-7) in a Class 3A Region II semifinal series at Royse City. Game 1 is at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday with Games 2 and 3 at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The winner will face either Van Alstyne or Atlanta in the region final next week.
Over the final two games against Palmer, which Gunter needed to win both to keep the season alive, the Tigers put up a combined 27 runs.
“Since Game 2 of Palmer, it’s been crazy. I don’t know if I can explain it,” Gunter head coach Kerry Clement said. “We’re getting the timely hits we weren’t getting, putting the bunts down we weren’t putting down. They’re locked in.”
It kept going last week.
The Tigers advanced with a sweep against Grand Saline, 10-0 in five innings and then 12-3, to reach the fourth round for the second time in three years and fifth in the last eight seasons. But getting to the region final has been tougher — it’s a place they last made it to in 2004.
“They’ve seen Gunter baseball in the past and the success we’ve had. You always want to do as good as the previous years,” Clement said. “They realize it’s their time to step up.”
Watson got the nod on the mound in the clincher, allowing a pair of earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and two walks, and also led the offense by going 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, two RBI and scored three times. Kyle Ball was 2-for-5 with a double, five RBI and scored, Bryson Rigsby was 2-for-4 and scored three times, Powell Zuniga doubled, walked twice, drove in two runs and scored and Zander Turner was 2-for-4 and scored as Gunter held an 8-0 lead after two innings.
In the opening run-rule win, Rigsby was 2-for-3 with a triple, three RBI and scored, Brooks Caple threw a two-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and four walks while Zuniga and Turner each drove in two runs and Teige Harris tripled, drove in a run and scored for the Tigers, who put up seven runs in the top of the first inning on the way to the blowout victory.
“I don’t know what the reason is,” Ball said. “Every single one of us can hit. We’re being really consistent throughout the lineup. We came in with the same mentality against Palmer and it’s kept going.”
Harmony, which has won 13 of its last 14 games, advanced to the fourth round with a sweep of New Diana, 9-2 and 3-1, last week. It is the Eagles’ first trip to the region semis since 2003 — they lost in the region quarterfinals against eventual state champion Beckville last spring.
“Anybody this far in the playoffs is going to be good,” Watson said. “We can’t be too overconfident.”
In the clincher, Easton Blackstone allowed an unearned on run three hits with two strikeouts and no walks while Drew McNeel was 2-for-3 with a double, drove in a run and scored, Trent Hart was 2-for-3 and Gage Goddard doubled and drove in a run.
Goddard picked up the win in the opener, allowing four hits — including two solo homers — with nine strikeouts and two walks. Evan Patterson singled and drove in three, Blackstone doubled and plated a run, Collan Hayes doubled and drove in a run and Hart walked twice drove in a run and scored twice as Harmony scored five times in the bottom of the fifth to extend a 3-2 lead.
The Eagles opened the playoffs with a sweep of Dallas Jefferson and then won a Game 3 against Winnsboro, 14-2, in five innings after losing the middle game, 8-7. Harmony won the opener, 22-1, in five innings
Harmony, which was the District 16-3A champion, split their first six games of the season before getting on a roll.
“They have two good pitchers, solid one through nine, aggressive on the bases, just a real good baseball team,” Clement said. “They’re used to making pretty deep playoffs runs.”