ROYSE CITY — Chandler David had pitched in the final inning before, but never like this and never with this much on the line.
Usually if he was on the mound in the seventh, the senior right-hander was throwing a complete game. This situation had him coming into the inning as Van Alstyne’s fourth pitcher of the night.
David was able to deliver the final three outs after inheriting a leadoff walk and the final one clinched Van Alstyne’s 6-5 victory over Harmony in Game 3 of the Class 3A Region II final series and send the Panthers to the state tournament.
“Tonight I had to be the closer. Just gotta do it for the boys. I’m confident in my pitches and trust the defense,” David said. “It’s amazing. This is everything I’ve worked for these four years.”
Van Alstyne (29-6) advances to the state tournament and will play in a semifinal at either 9 a.m. or noon on Friday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. Kirbyville, Blanco and Wall are the other state qualifiers. The UIL will announce the pairings on Sunday. It is the second state tourney appearance for the Panthers, joining the runner-up squad of 2016
Harmony (30-9) was trying to reach state for the first time since 2003. This was as far as the Eagles had been since that semifinal season.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling going back to Round Rock,” Panthers head coach Jimmy Haynes said. “These guys are resilient. They keep coming back and keep making plays. It’s a testament to these kids.”
For the second straight week the Panthers were pushed to a deciding Game 3 and both times went into the sixth inning trailing by a run before scoring twice and then holding on. All three games were decided by a single run.
“Harmony is a great team. They’re top four hitters, we couldn’t get them out,” Haynes said. “It was probably the first time in my career I’m mentally exhausted after trying to figure out all the moves to make.”
The Eagles got the tying run in scoring position in the top of the seventh. Evan Patterson walked to open the inning and Van Alstyne turned to David, the Game 2 starter. Hunter McNeel bunted but it was right back to David, who got the force at second. Another groundout to the pitcher moved the runner to second but David induced a chopper to third to secure the victory.
The Panthers quickly got in position to at least tie the game in the bottom of the sixth when Zach Smith singled up the middle and Nathan Cuthbertson walked. Gage Goddard, the Game 1 starter, came on in relief and got an out — but it was a sacrifice by David Terrill that moved the runners up.
After a strikeout, Conner Loftice hit a high, slow chopper to the right side that got over Goddard’s head and allowed him to reach. Smith scored to even the game at five.
The two-out rally continued as Tyler Wilson singled to right center to put the Panthers back in front.
“Hop on his fastball when he throws it. That was key this whole series,” Wilson said. “It was a back-and-forth battle. It was a who’s going to make the big mistake, who’s going to come through type of game.”
Pinch-hitter Cade Morgan walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases before Rhett Gallagher lined back to Collan Hays to end the inning.
In the sixth inning the Eagles took the lead for the first time and did it with two outs. Cameron Helpenstill was hit by a pitch with one out and nearly doubled off to end the inning when Kyle Henry popped up a bunt back to Smith, who opened the inning on the mound. The safe call at first kept the frame alive and Drew McNeel followed with a walk.
Easton Blackstone singled to tie the game and David let the ball get past him as Drew McNeel came all the way around as the Eagles jumped ahead 5-4.
Harmony put the tying runs on base with one-out walks by Blackstone and Goddard in the fifth and Van Alstyne made a pitching change, substituting Samuel Tormos, the Game 1 starter, for Gallagher, who allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits with three strikeouts and three walks in his 4.1 innings of work.
Tormos got a strikeout before a balk pushed the tying run into scoring position and that allowed courtesy runner Blayze Phillips to score on a wild pitch and get the Eagles within a run.
In the fourth, Van Alstyne became the first team to put up a crooked number as it took a 4-2 lead. Smith singled, went to second on a sacrifice and Terrill followed with a walk. With two outs, Loftice had an RBI single to left and Kyle Henry let it get past him as another run came home.
The back-and-forth middle innings continued as Harmony tied the game at two. Trent Hart walked, Patterson singled and they moved up on a groundout. Hays reached on an error which tied the game at two and the Eagles had runners at the corners. But Gallagher got a strikeout and a foulout to the catcher to escape further damage.
The Panthers wasted little time reclaiming the lead after the Eagles pulled even in the top of the third. Wilson led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, was sacrificed to second and took third on a groundout. Tormos hit a high chopper to third to give Van Alstyne a 2-1 advantage.
Harmony almost wasted a leadoff triple to right center by Helpenstill in the third. Gallagher got a strikeout and Helpenstill had to hold on a grounder to short. But Blackstone lined a single the other way to left to tie the game at one.
Van Alstyne took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Tormos’ RBI double to right center. Wilson opened the inning with a walk and Alex Rivera singled before a flyout. Tormos’ extra-base hit was just out of the reach of Helpenstill’s dive, forcing Rivera to wait and ultimately hold up at third.
That turned out to be a crucial play because Smith followed with a grounder to short and Drew McNeel came home to get Rivera for the second out. Another groundout kept the Panthers’ advantage to just one run.
Harmony forced the deciding contest by holding on for a 7-6 victory in Game 2 on Friday night at Prosper.
The game was scoreless until the fifth inning when Harmony took a 4-0 lead. Drew McNeel was hit by a pitch before Blackstone’s single to left. Goddard doubled to the left-field wall and Harmony was on the board. Hart snuck a single between third and short for an RBI hit and then Patterson had a two-run single up the middle.
The Panthers responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Loftice singled between a pair of strikeouts and then Wilson lifted a two-run homer over the high wall in left. David tripled to center and scored when Blackstone tried to pick him off. The throw hit David in the back and went to the fence, allowing him to make it a 4-3 margin.
The Eagles then went up 7-3 in the sixth with a two-out rally. Drew McNeel, Blackstone and Goddard walked to load the bases. Two errors on the next play, a hard grounder to first, allowed two runs to come home. Patterson walked to reload the bases before a wild pitch allowed Goddard to race home.
Van Alstyne pulled within the final margin with three runs in the sixth. Terrill had an RBI single with one out that had runners at the corners. Morgan walked to load the bases with two outs before Wilson and David walked to force in a run.
Blackstone was one pitch away from another walk to force in the tying run but got a strikeout to send the Eagles to final inning with a one-run lead and Van Alstyne went in order to close out the game.