Gunter halfway to state berth after blowout win in Game 1
TYLER — The destination is exactly what the Gunter Tigers wanted: to be halfway to a spot at state and have two chances to clinch. The journey they took to get there, however, had more twists and turns than their third long trip east in the last week.
Gunter used four pitchers after an early exit by starter Isaac Villanueva, got out of three bases-loaded jams almost completely unscathed and then used a six-run sixth inning — keyed by Trey Oblas’ bases-clearing triple — to put away Atlanta, 11-1, to open the Class 3A Region II final series at Mike Carter Field.
“It didn’t feel like a comfortable game. It felt a lot closer,” Tigers head coach Daryl Hellman said. “They were a hit away here or there. That’s when our pitchers stepped up.”
Gunter (35-8) will look to sweep and advance to the state tournament at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Community. Atlanta (24-12) will try to force a deciding Game 3 at 6 p.m. on Friday at Community.
“We’ve got to stay locked in,” Hellman said. “We played good enough at times. We got the timely hits when there were guys in scoring position. We don’t want there to be a Game 3.”
Garrett Vogel went 3-for-4 with a double, walked, drove in two and scored twice, Oblas was 2-for-3 with his triple, three RBI and scored, Landon Pelfrey was 2-for-4 with a double and scored twice and Colton Jolly scored three times for the Tigers.
Atlanta’s frustration at the plate lasted through the seventh, when the Rabbits loaded the bases for the final time. They only had one run to show for it, leaving a total of 13 on base and hitting into a pair of double plays.
The Rabbits would have felt pretty good if they knew Gunter ace Isaac Villanueva would last just two innings. But Nash Daniel, Cade Dodson and Pelfrey combined for five shutout innings after the sophomore lefty departed with what looked like an arm injury.
Villanueva walked Ty Graf, who had two of Atlanta’s three hits, on a 3-2 pitch and then left holding his left elbow/forearm area. He threw 68 pitches, just 34 strikes, and didn’t allow a hit but walked five and hit a batter.
“His season is over or he’ll pitch in a week-and-a-half,” said Hellman, referring to the state semifinals, which are next Friday. Villanueva is unavailable for the remainder of the series because his pitch count mandates three days rest.
Daniel came on and retired the side, getting help from Vogel’s diving catch in center for the second out which saved at least one run from scoring.
Gunter broke the game open with six runs in the sixth — all but one coming with two outs.
Pelfrey kicked it off with a double down the third-base line, went to third on a passed ball and Jolly walked.
Zach Boland pushed a squeeze to the right side and Pelfrey slid under the attempted swipe tag by Graf, the catcher, for a 5-1 lead.
Carter Layton pinch-hit and moved the runners over with a groundout, leading to an intentional walk to Vogel. Kaden Rigsby hit a sinking liner to center that Kale Carpenter made a sliding catch on and Jolly didn’t tag up.
It could have been a costly mistake but Dodson reached on a dropped third strike through the Graf's legs to bring in a run and Oblas cleared the bases with a triple over Nick Burden’s head in right field. Dex Ebarb couldn’t handle Cooper Wade’s chopper to third and the Tigers were up 10-1 just a half-inning after Atlanta had the tying run on base.
“You continue to produce by knowing the situation and doing your job,” Hellman said. “It doesn’t matter how many outs there are. Your job is to do your job.”
The Tigers widened the gap to double digits in the seventh when Jolly was hit by a pitch, moved up on a wild pitch and a groundout and scored on Riekkhan Bostick’s sac fly to center.
In the bottom of the fifth, Atlanta loaded the bases with a leadoff walk by Jackson Warren, who was sacrificed to second, and Graf had the Rabbits’ first hit on a single to right. Burden followed with a walk and Dodson came on in relief of Daniel, who went two and a third innings.
It was the third straight game Dodson was called upon with the bases loaded. He got Randall Mason to ground out to third and Daniel turned the double play to end the inning.
“He did it again,” Hellman said. “You have a lot of confidence in him with a situation like that.”
The Tigers pushed their advantage to 4-0 in the top of the second. Pelfrey and Boland sandwiched singles around a forceout and moved into scoring position on Bostick’s grounder to third. Vogel ripped a double to the right-center gap to bring them home before he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Gunter held a 2-0 lead just three batters into the contest. Vogel led off with a single and with one out Dodson sent a hit to right. Burden misplayed it and let it get by him as Vogel scored and Dodson headed for third.
The relay throw was mishandled and Dodson didn’t have to stop, completing the trip around the base paths.
Atlanta loaded the bases with two outs in the second and came away with a run despite not getting a hit. Villanueva hit Ebarb and then walked Will Woodruff with one out. After the second out, Cooper McClure walked to load the bases and Warren forced in a run when he walked on four pitches.
Villanueva limited the damage as he struck out Kelby Smith, who took the loss for Atlanta, in what was the final out he would get in the game.
Class 3A Region II
At Tyler's Carter Field