Gunter, Bells split as part of three-way tie atop 11-3A
BELLS — As the Gunter Tigers and Bells Panthers did a lot of winning early in district play, the collision course for the final night of the season quickly came into focus.
They got there tied atop the 11-3A standings and the double-header to close out the schedule against each other provided the opportunity to capture the district crown outright with a sweep.
However it didn't turn out to be so cut and dry: a split via a pair of shutouts, the last being an 8-0 Gunter victory, combined with Pottsboro’s sweep of Leonard only made things more crowded with the playoffs right around the corner.
The Tigers, Panthers and Cardinals can each claim a portion of the title and will now need to determine the top three seeds later this week.
Gunter (24-6, 11-3) kept Bells (21-6, 11-3) from having first place to itself with a big first inning that backed the effort on the mound by Cooper Wade, who threw a three-hitter with two strikeouts, a walk and a hit by pitch. Colton Jolly was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and scored twice, Nash Daniel was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and two RBI, Kaden Rigsby was 2-for-4 and scored and Garrett Vogel scored twice for the Tigers.
Tanner Carter went 2-for-3, Preston Carter singled and Landon Nelson walked for the Panthers.
Bells had a runner on base in every inning except the second but only one got past first base — Tanner Carter with a leadoff single that was followed by a wild pitch.
It was the seventh shutout in district play by the Gunter staff and the 11th time the Tigers allowed a run or fewer to an 11-3A opponent.
Gunter tacked on two runs in the fifth to widen a gap that didn't look like it was about to be closed. Vogel reached on a one-out error and Trey Oblas hit one off the end of the bat towards third for an infield hit.
Bells turned to Ben Burleson in relief of Austin Young. After a wild pitch, Daniel went the other way for a two-run double into right center for the 7-0 advantage.
A pair of errors in the sixth allowed Gunter to close out the scoring.
Bells had a chance to cut into the deficit during the third inning but Rigsby ended the frame with a diving catch in left center to save a pair of runs from scoring.
Landon Morse hit a sharp liner to the gap but Rigsby’s head-first lunge allowed him to make the grab right before the ball hit the ground. Burleson and Keaton High, on after a fielder’s choice and hit by pitch respectively, would have made it a 5-2 margin with Morse ending up in scoring position — and perhaps coming all the way around on an inside-the-park home run.
The Panthers were playing from behind because Gunter immediately jumped to a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the first, taking advantage of an early error and some two-out power.
Cade Dodson and Rigsby opened the inning with singles and the latter involved a throwing error to put both in scoring position.
Vogel sent a ball towards left center and instead of a sac fly it turned into a two-run miscue on a muffed catch.
After two quick outs, Zach Boland drove in a run with a double that kicked off the third-base bag and Jolly hammered a two-run homer to left for the five-run margin.
It was a quick response to the Tigers dropping the first game of the double-header as Morse and Isaac Villanueva pitched gems and Bells pulled out the 1-0 win in eight innings.
Villanueva allowed two hits and four walks while striking out eight in seven innings on 108 pitches before being replaced by Landon Pelfrey. While he had to settle for a no-decision, Villanueva did extend his scoreless streak to 36 and a 1/3 innings, giving up just seven hits in that span.
Morse started the eighth with a single to left, went to second on a sacrifice by Hayden Trainor and then Nelson’s single to left gave the Panthers the victory.
Morse went the distance, allowing just one hit and striking out nine with no walks on 80 pitches.
Rigsby had the lone hit for the Tigers, a one-out single in the first. Gunter had two other base runners on errors, one in the third inning and another in the seventh.