Van Alstyne comes up short in 9-4A tie-breaker

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Van Alstyne's Collin Reynolds tries to complete a double play during the 9-4A tie-breaker against Melissa.

MELISSA — It was nothing close to a normal double-header but it gave Van Alstyne what it wanted, which was a chance to reach the playoffs.

The first step for the Panthers was to beat Sanger in the final 9-4A contest of the regular season — a game that was postponed twice due to weather — in Aubrey to set up a meeting with Melissa, at Melissa, an hour and a half later with the winner advancing to the postseason.

“It wasn’t the ideal situation. Sometimes things happen and you’ve got to pick up the pieces and go,” Van Alstyne head coach Jimmy Haynes said. “If we don’t beat Sanger there is no game against Melissa. We were prepared to throw whoever we had to.”

The Panthers’ hot bats cooled as the night wore on and Melissa defeated Van Alstyne, 4-1, in the 9-4A tie-breaker to earn the district’s final playoff spot.

The Cardinals (15-10, 6-7) will face Midlothian Heritage in the bi-district round later this week. Melissa has made the playoffs every year since 2010.

Van Alstyne (16-10, 5-8) missed out on qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2013.

“Jumping from 3A to 4A, there’s definitely a big difference,” Haynes said. “But what I saw from guys as we played each game is they got better and more confidence. We could have folded the tent after the first round when we were 2-4.”

Jordan Caldwell threw five innings of strong relief, allowing a run on three hits with four strikeouts and a pair of walks, to give Van Alstyne a chance after falling into an early 3-0 hole.

But the Panthers managed just three hits against Mason Perkins, who struck out four and walked three.

Despite the struggles Van Alstyne got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Justus Hill had a one-out single up the middle and Conner Loftice reached on an error before Perkins got the final two outs to seal the spot for the Cardinals.

Melissa had added some insurance in the top of the seventh. After a walk and a forceout, Hayden Schafer hit a ball to right center that Dakota Howard tried to haul in but injured his ankle while running towards. Coy Defury was able to come all the way around from first for the final margin.

The Panthers left a runner in scoring position in the fifth when Tom Fowler, who walked to start the inning, stole second with two outs while Caldwell walked with one out in the sixth but never left first.

Van Alstyne made a pair of outs on the bases to end the third and fourth innings, the latter coming after Aaron Beckham’s two-out single to right. He was on the move when Perkins uncorked a wild pitch on ball four to Nathan Henley and tried to go to third but Ayden Heinz recovered in time to nab him at the bag.

The Panthers cut into a three-run deficit when they got on the board in the third. Loftice walked and moved to second on a groundout. Mathew Crawford reached on an error and Loftice came around to score.

Melissa left a pair in scoring position in the third and also stranded runners at the corners in the sixth in trying to pad its lead.

The Cardinals took a 3-0 advantage in the second. Tristan McGee walked to open the inning, was at third after a pair of wild pitches and scored on Elijah Jones’ groundout to first base.

With two outs, Heinz and Perkins worked walks before Caleb Otlewski had a two-run double to left center.

Both teams had chances to get on the board in the first inning.

Melissa got a one-out walk from Braden Jackson and a pair of wild pitches moved him into scoring position. Crawford struck out the next two Cardinals to keep him stranded at third.

Howard led off the bottom of the first with a single to right, was sacrificed to second and the Panthers had runners at the corners when Crawford reached on an error. But Caldwell popped out to second and Riley Dancer flew out right to keep the game scoreless.

Van Alstyne forced the deciding contest with a 10-3 victory over Sanger. Howard and Blake Skipworth homered, Beckham was 2-for-2 with a double, walked, drove in a run and scored, Fowler was 2-for-3 with a triple, drove in a run and scored and Loftice finished with three RBI.

Zach Shepard was 2-for-3 with a double and scored for Sanger (7-17, 3-9).

District 9-4A tie-breaker

Melissa                    4

Van Alstyne             1