Gunter drops region semifinal opener in nine innings
BULLARD — It’s a blueprint the Gunter Tigers have nearly perfected: wait out the opposing starter thanks to strong pitching performance by one of their own and scratch out a win however possible.
And as the second straight round of the playoffs began with an extra-inning affair, it looked like a similar result would follow.
But instead of gaining control in a fourth consecutive series, the Tigers find themselves immediately facing elimination after Elysian Fields outlasted Gunter, 6-1, in nine innings in the opener of a Class 3A Region II semifinals series at Brook Hill School.
The Yellowjackets (25-8) will try to sweep at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Brook Hill School while the Tigers (32-8) look to force a deciding Game 3, which would be at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Community.
“I thought we were going to do it again,” Gunter head coach Daryl Hellman said. “We got out of a couple situations and we had our chances. A hit, a walk, an error would have been the difference.”
Elysian Fields nearly batted around in the ninth to break the game open. Kip Lewis singled to right, Logan Presley walked and a wild pitch moved them over. Noah Grubbs was intentionally walked after the count got to 2-0 to load the bases.
Ryan Williams struck out but then a wild pitch allowed Lewis to race home with the go-ahead run.
Jackson Illingworth walked to reload the bases and Landon Pelfrey came on in relief of Nash Daniel.
Jace Greenslate doubled to the left-center gap and cleared the bases to give Elysian Fields a 5-1 lead.
The Yellowjackets tacked on a run with Landon Swank’s single to center.
Isaac Villanueva pitched into the eighth inning for the second straight week and allowed a run on six hits with five strikeouts, three walks and two hit batters. His scoreless innings streak came to an end at 55 1/3 innings and has now allowed just a single run in his past 62 frames.
“He didn’t have as much control as he’d like but he did what he needed to do to give us a chance to win the ballgame,” Hellman said. “We’ve got to score more runs for him."
The Tigers’ lone run came in the fourth inning as Illingworth also allowed very little. He gave up five hits and a walk while striking out five in eight innings.
After a leadoff walk to Garrett Vogel, Illingworth retired 11 straight — all on balls put in play — until Trey Oblas singled up the middle off the pitcher’s mound with two outs in the fourth.
Oblas went to second on a wild pitch and Cooper Wade followed with an RBI triple the other way to right that David Hutson dove and got a glove on it but couldn’t haul in to end the inning and the Tigers tied the game.
Vogel had walked to open the bottom of the first and went to second on Kaden Rigsby’s bunt. But he was stranded there after two pop-outs, including a difficult diving catch by Wilkerson, the shortstop, in foul territory to end the inning.
The latter innings had the Tigers frustrated at the plate.
Gunter stranded the winning run at second in the bottom of the eighth after Rigsby singled to left with one out and stole second with two outs.
In the bottom of the ninth, Pelfrey was hit by a pitch with one out before Daniel grounded into a double play to end the game.
In the fifth, Daniel reached on an error before a pair of flyouts. Vogel singled to right but Rigsby struck out to keep the game tied at one.
Daniel singled up the middle with one out in the seventh to put the winning run on base but never advanced thanks to a pair of strikeouts.
The Yellowjackets had a prime chance to win the game in the top of the eighth. Wilkerson tripled to deep right and then Illingworth was hit by a pitch, ending Villanueva’s night. Daniel came on and got a chopper to third that held Wilkerson and then an infield pop-up after Swank was intentionally walked to load the bases provided the second out.
Hutson flew out to right on the first pitch he saw to keep the game tied.
Elysian Fields took a 1-0 lead three batters into the game to end Villanueva’s streak.
Presley singled to left, Grubbs sacrificed him to second and Wilkerson doubled off the center-field wall to put the Yellowjackets in front. Villanueva limited the damage with a strikeout and flyout.
In the second, Swank walked to begin the inning and Lewis was hit by a pitch with two outs before Villanueva struck out Presley.
Elysian Fields ran into an inning-ending out during the third. Swank walked with one out and Hutson had an infield single between second and first. Swank tried to go to third but Pelfrey, the second baseman, alertly threw him out.
The Yellowjackets made another out at third in the fifth after Lewis walked and was sacrificed to second. He tried to advance on a grounder to short but Wade nabbed him for the second out of the inning.
Elysian Fields left a pair of runners in scoring position in the sixth. Illingworth singled up the middle and Swank had a one-out single to right. With two outs, a wild pitch and then a stolen base had the Yellowjackets in position to take the lead but Villanueva struck out Hutson.
Class 3A Region II
Elysian Fields 6