Gunter advances to region final for first time since 2004
NEVADA — There are very few teams who can say they won a game started by Gunter’s ace. It was the perfect spot for Elysian Fields to continue its playoff run while the Tigers had been put in an unfamiliar spot — needing to win twice to keep their season alive.
But the depth on Gunter’s pitching staff and the ability to put together some big innings helped the Tigers outlast Elysian Fields, 9-3, and take the deciding contest of a Class 3A Region II semifinal series at Community.
Gunter (34-8) will face Atlanta in a region final series for a berth at the state tournament. Game 1 is at Mike Carter Field in Tyler on Wednesday, Game 2 is at Community on Thursday and Game 3, if necessary, would be on Friday at Community. First pitch for every game is 6 p.m.
It is the first appearance in the fifth round for the Tigers since 2004. Gunter had been to the region semifinals five times from 2012-2019 before breaking through this spring.
"I wanted them to know what's out there. It's all in front of them," Gunter head coach Daryl Hellman said. "Everybody in our clubhouse and our dugout has been working towards the same goal."
Garrett Vogel was 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI and scored twice, Trey Oblas singled, walked twice, drove in a pair and scored, Colton Jolly was 2-for-4, drove in a run and scored and Cade Dodson had a second straight stellar relief effort for the Tigers.
Logan Presley doubled and scored for Elysian Fields (25-10), which was trying to make the region final for the first time since 2003. This was the best finish by the Yellowjackets since that season — the program hadn’t been to the area round since 2014 or the region quarterfinals since 2008.
After Elysian Fields not only got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth but had the tying run on base, the Tigers tacked on some insurance with an immediate answer in the seventh. Gunter loaded the bases with one out as Oblas and Cooper Wade walked before Landon Pelfrey’s single to right.
Pinch-hitter Zach Boland singled to right to drive in a run and an error on the play allowed Wade to touch home right before the throw arrived at the plate. Jolly’s RBI single off the glove of a diving Jackson Illingworth at shortstop pushed the Tigers’ margin back to six runs and the Yellowjackets went in order to end it.
Riekkhan Bostick was cruising until the bottom of the sixth. A one-out error opened the door for Elysian Fields and the Yellowjackets barged through it.
Presley had reached on the miscue and Noah Grubbs followed with a single. Ryan Wilkerson’s hit to center got Elysian Fields on the board and the runners moved up when the throw home went to the backstop.
Illingworth was intentionally walked with first base open and Jace Greenslate had an RBI single to left to cut the Yellowjackets’ deficit to 6-2.
Gunter made a change on the mound, bringing in Nash Daniel, and Landon Swank walked on a full count to force in a run.
That brought a quick hook and the Tigers turned to Dodson, who came in with the bases loaded in Game 2 and went on to throw the final three and a third innings, allowing just a single base runner.
Dodson got J.D. Ballard to hit a nubber which he fielded for the force at home before striking out David Hutson to maintain Gunter’s lead at three. He retired all five batters he faced and 13 of 14 in the series.
"He's got ice water in his veins," Hellman said. "To see him go out there and do what he did, I'm so proud."
In the fourth, the Tigers gained some breathing room with four runs.
Jolly had a one-out single and Carter Layton walked to force a pitching change. Greenslate came on in relief of Blake Merritt and Vogel sliced the first pitch he saw into the left-field corner for a two-run double and a 4-0 advantage.
Rigsby singled to left to put runners at the corners and Dodson drove in a run with a groundout to second.
Oblas closed out the inning with an RBI single to left center.
The Tigers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the third inning after loading the bases as Vogel and Dodson sandwiched singles around a Rigsby walk.
Oblas lifted a sac fly to center, on which Rigsby tagged and went to third, before Wade beat out an infield hit behind the second base bag with a head-first dive to avoid the final out and plate Rigsby.
"You're just trying to get the early lead any way you can," Hellman said.
Gunter did strand three runners in the first two innings.
Vogel led off the game with a single through the left side but never left first base.
In the second, Oblas walked and Rigsby reached on a bunt that Merritt fumbled trying to make the throw. Pelfrey sacrificed them over but Merritt got a pair of comebackers to end that threat and keep the game scoreless.
Presley had a two-out double to left in the third and moved to third on a wild pitch but was stranded there when Bostick struck out Grubbs to hold the Yellowjackets off the board.
Bostick retired six of the first seven he faced, working around Illingworth’s single to start the second inning, and allowed only three base runners through five innings.
"He did everything we asked him to do — get through five or six innings and give us a chance to win the game and he did that," Hellman said.
Class 3A Region II
Elysian Fields 3