TOM BEAN — A big inning for the Tomcats came at the right time and now Tom Bean is trying to turn its strong start to the season into something bigger.
After making the playoffs for only the second time in school history and ending an eight-year playoff drought last spring, the Tomcats know they are capable of earning another berth following a tie for third place.
“I’ve got a lot of seniors that are trying to build on last year,” Tom Bean head coach Bryan Pauler said.
The Tomcats have taken a big step in that direction with their fourth straight victory to open the season as Tom Bean held off Honey Grove, 7-6, in non-district action.
Zach Lusk was 2-for-3, drove in a run, scored and earned the win, Lance Pauler was 2-for-3, drove in a run and scored, Blake Watson scored twice and Kaleb Wyrick nailed down the save for Tom Bean (4-0), which faces Bland and Callisburg on Thursday to open the Bland Tournament.
Garrett West was 1-for-1 with a pair of walks, drove in a run and scored for Honey Grove (1-2), which finished with just four hits.
The Tomcats had only one base runner — a single up the middle by Lusk with two outs in the first — through the first four innings.
Then with one away in the fourth, the lineup strung together some offense. Lusk started it with a hit to right, stole second and tied the game on Blake Watson’s hit to left. Watson was stealing second when Lance Pauler singled right where the second baseman had vacated to go cover second.
Tom Bean had runners at the corners and Chase Parsons put the Tomcats ahead, 2-1, on a groundout to second.
“Early on we didn’t have a great plan. We went up there just to hit,” Pauler said. “Once we talked about it and figured it out we were able to put it together. We were able to make adjustments and come through when it mattered.”
The Tomcats nearly batted around as they took a six-run lead in the fifth. Alex Sanchez singled and Andrew Johnson reached on an error. Gage Moore beat out a sacrifice bunt to load the bases with no outs and Lusk drove in a run on a groundout to first.
Watson lifted a fly ball to center that would have at least been a sac fly but turned into a pair of runs when the ball was dropped. Lance Pauler followed with an RBI single to right and Wyrick made it 7-1 on groundout to second.
“It relaxed us a little bit,” Pauler said. “We kinda gave them that first run.”
Honey Grove went up 1-0 in the second when West walked, stole second and came around when the throw went into center field.
The Warriors had a chance to tie the game in the fifth. West reached on an infield single in the hole at shortstop and took second on a wild pitch. Honey Grove tried to be aggressive when the ball ended up in foul territory at first base but Zach Adcock recovered in time to throw West out at the plate and keep the Tomcats in front.
Tom Bean, which won nine games all of last season, built a 7-1 lead after five innings but nearly gave it all back the following half-inning.
Lusk allowed an unearned run on one hit in five innings with eight strikeouts and a walk before Blake Watson came on in relief.
Will Brummett singled on a fly to center that dropped in for a hit despite hanging up for what could have been the first out. Brock Braley walked with one out and Aidan Lornson loaded the bases with a single to right center.
Brummett scored on a wild pitch before Karson McKnight, who took the loss, walked to reload the bases before walks by Bryson Braley and West forced in runs to make it 7-4.
A two-run single to right by Ki Bass, the No. 9 hitter, with two outs pulled the Warriors with a run before a groundout back to Watson ended the inning and kept the Tomcats in front.
“Blake got a tough break near the beginning of the inning and then lost it there,” Pauler said. “It was a learning experience.”
Wyrick retired the side in the seventh with a pair of groundouts around a strikeout to close out the win.
“I think it comes down to us competing well,” Pauler said. “We had a lapse in one inning. Kaleb did a great job in there at the end.”