ROYSE CITY — From third place in the District 9-3A standings to being one of the final four teams left standing in the region, the Gunter Tigers were so close to being one win away from advancing to the region final.
But after losing 1-0 in eight innings in the series opener, nothing went right for the Tigers as they hoped to stave off elimination and force a deciding contest on Saturday afternoon.
Easton Blackstone limited Gunter to four hits, a walk and hit a pair and was also 4-for-4 with two doubles, five RBI and scored twice as Big Sandy Harmony defeated the Tigers, 13-1, in five innings to sweep a Class 3A Region II semifinal series.
Harmony (29-7) advances to the region final and will face Van Alstyne (27-5) for a berth at the state tournament. It is the first appearance in the fifth round for the Eagles since 2003, when they made it to state.
Gunter (26-10) was trying to get to the region final for the first time since 2004.
“We grew as a team. We had several guys getting varsity experience for the first time. We got better as the year went,” Gunter head coach Kerry Clement said. “Playoff experience makes you better. We’re going to bring seven starters back and they’ll work hard over the summer to get better for next year.”
The Tigers had a chance to extend the game in their half of the fifth inning with a lead-off single by Bryson Rigsby and Powell Zuniga and Carlos Chavez were hit by pitches with two outs. But Rigsby tried to score on a wild pitch and was thrown out to end it.
Harmony broke the game open with seven runs in the fifth. The Eagles loaded the bases – Collan Hays singled and Kyle Henry walked before a pitching change and Drew McNeel laid down a bunt that hugged the third-base line.
Blackstone had a two-run single to center and Gage Goddard singled off the third-base bag to push the lead to 9-1.
Trent Hart reloaded the bases with a walk, which brought on another pitching change, and a wild pitch gave the Eagles double digits for the day.
Evan Patterson kept the line moving with a walk and Hunter McNeel was hit by a pitch to force in a run and put Harmony in position to enact the run rule before RBI groundouts from Cameron Helpenstill and Hays closed out the scoring.
Gunter’s best chance to get back in the game came in the fourth. Chavez and Kyle Ball opened the frame with singles to right and an error on Ball’s hit gave the Tigers runners at the corners.
Blackstone wriggled out the jam with a strikeout and then picked courtesy runner KK Rigsby off third. Another error kept the inning alive and put runners back at the corners but a flyout to center kept Harmony’s lead at five.
“That was it. That hurt us,” Clement said. “We didn’t play well at all. We didn’t hit well. We didn’t pitch well.”
The Eagles added to their advantage in the third when they loaded the bases with one out – Hunter McNeel and Hays were hit by pitches around a groundout and Henry bunted for a hit.
Drew McNeel singled to right for a run but Harrison Fox threw out Hays trying to score from second.
Blackstone hit a ground-rule double into the left-field corner that kept Harmony from getting an extra run as McNeel had to stop at third for a 6-1 lead.
Gunter notched its first run of the series in the bottom of the second inning. Ball walked with one out and Fox singled to left. A groundout to first moved the runners up and courtesy runner Tristan Meadors raced home on a wild pitch.
Blackstone limited the damage with his glove, knocking down Bryson Rigsby’s liner, chasing after it and making the flip to first to close out the frame.
After it took extra innings in Game 1 for someone to get on the board, Harmony was able to put up a crooked number in the second inning as it build a 4-0 advantage.
With one out, Helpenstill and Hays singled before Henry reached on an error to bring home the first run. Blackstone then had a two-run double to the left-center field fence and Goddard followed with an RBI single to left.
Brooks Caple worked out of a jam in the first after Blackstone’s one-out single to right center and Goddard was hit by a pitch. A force at second put runners at the corners before a pop-out to short ended the inning.