TYLER — Ninety feet away.
That’s the distance Big Sandy Harmony continuously found itself from getting a run, an Eagle perched on the third base bag ready to head home.
Three different Van Alstyne pitchers — Samuel Tormos, Zach Smith and Rhett Gallagher — faced that situation six times across seven innings. Only once did Harmony succeed at scoring, and the Panthers did just enough at the plate for a 2-1 victory in the opener of the Class 3A Region II final at Mike Carter Field on Thursday night.
“Pitching’s been doing that all year. It’s the story of our season,” Van Alstyne head coach Jimmy Haynes said. “The pitching was outstanding. It’s been our catalyst and it came through again tonight.”
Van Alstyne (28-5) will look to advance to the state tournament with a win in Game 2 at 7 p.m. on Friday at Prosper. Harmony (29-8) is trying to force a deciding third contest, which will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Royse City.
The Eagles’ final chance came in the bottom of the seventh against Gallagher, who allowed a one-out double into the left-field corner by Trent Hart. The senior right-hander followed with a strikeout and then an attempted steal of third was thwarted by David Terrill’s throw to end the game.
Outside of the fourth inning when Van Alstyne scored both its runs, thanks to the troika of Gallagher, Tormos and Smith, the Panthers did little against Gage Goddard — who gave up three hits, two walks and struck out eight. He retired the final nine he faced to give the Eagles a chance.
“That guy’s good. He got better as the game went on,” Haynes said. “I’d take him in a heartbeat.”
Harmony was again on the verge of tying the game in the sixth after Drew McNeel’s two-out triple to right center. But Easton Blackstone hit a one-hopper to short.
The Eagles had the leadoff batter on base for the fourth time in fifth innings when Hart walked against Tormos, who was then lifted after four-plus innings where he allowed six hits and two walks, hit two and struck out six.
Tormos hadn’t pitched a Game 1 yet this postseason — it’s been either Chandler David or Gallagher — but Haynes and assistant Darrell Hardcastle went with a gut decision.
“They’re a very good hitting team,” Haynes said. “We knew they were going to be sitting fastball. Sam has a different angle than CD and Rhett. Sam’s a competitor he always wants the ball.”
Added Tormos: “None of us knew who was pitching until this morning. I knew I’d pitch either Game 1 or 2 so I wasn’t that shocked. We put trust in the next man up and we all trust each other and we’re going to do it to the best of our ability.”
Smith came on in relief and Evan Patterson reached on an infield single off Smith’s glove. A 4-6-3 double play put the tying run at third but Smith induced another grounder to second to end the inning.
“Zach came in and gave me exactly what I needed,” Haynes said.
Harmony had a two-out rally in the fifth when singles by Drew McNeel and Blackstone put runners at the corners before a foulout near the plate.
Van Alstyne had a quick response in the top of the fourth after falling behind 1-0. Gallagher led off with a walk and Tormos tripled to the center field wall to tie the game.
“First at-bat he threw me three curve balls and then two more in this one,” Tormos said. “I was looking dead-red fastball and hope to drive it if I got it. It felt sweet off the bat.”
Smith’s slow chopper over the mound gave the Panthers to lead as Tormos came home on the groundout.
The Eagles scored their only run in the bottom of the third. Van Alstyne caught a break when Drew McNeel’s leadoff single hit the third-base umpire to keep it from being a double. Blackstone and Goddard followed with singles to load the bases before Tormos nearly wriggled out of the jam.
Following a pop-out to short, David made a diving snag at first and threw home for the force at the plate. Hunter McNeel was hit by a pitch to force in a run but the damage was limited to the lone score.
Harmony missed an opportunity to score in the second. Patterson walked to open the frame and was sacrificed to second. After a strikeout, Collan Hays singled to center but Patterson didn’t score on the play despite their being two outs. Tormos then struck out Kyle Henry with runners at the corners.
Tormos led off the second with a walk and moved up on Smith’s groundout to second but went nowhere thanks to a pop-up and groundout, both to second base.
Drew McNeel led off the bottom of the first by getting hit by a pitch and moved up on a two-out wild pitch before being stranded at second.
Van Alstyne had the leadoff runner of the game reach base when Tyler Wilson singled to center. But Jordan Caldwell popped up a bunt that Goddard made a diving catch on near the first-base line.
He tried to double off Wilson at first and the call was safe with an initial move by the umpire to signal an out. In the confusion Wilson started back across the field to the dugout and Goddard, who was heading to the mound, reversed course and made a diving tag as Wilson scurried back to the bag to complete an odd double play.