Gunter's best season in 20 years ends in state semifinals

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Gunter senior Nash Daniel had a two-run double in the sixth inning to tie the game but Malakoff earned a walk-off, 4-3 victory in a 3A state semifinal at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

ROUND ROCK — It came down to the final inning with a spot in the championship game on the line and the score tied.

After rallying for two runs to get even, Gunter was unable to push Malakoff into extras and keep its best season in 20 years going.

Brandon Nations delivered a walk-off single to finish off the late-inning drama and Malakoff edged Gunter, 4-3, in a Class 3A semifinal at Dell Diamond.

Malakoff (37-7) will face London (33-5), which beat Brock 7-2 in the other semifinal, for the state championship at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Dell Diamond.

Nations went 3-for-4 and was a triple shy of the cycle and drove in all four runs while Cole Gaddis and Nathan Jones doubled for Malakoff.

Nash Daniel doubled, walked, drove in two and scored, Cade Dodson went 2-for-3 and was hit by a pitch and Landon Pelfrey walked twice and scored for Gunter (36-9), which had its best season since 2001 when it also made the state semifinals. Before last week it had been 17 years since the Tigers had made it as far as the the fifth round.

"Very proud of them. To have an extremely young varsity team do it is special," Gunter head coach Daryl Hellman said. "Couldn't be prouder of these kids."

Isaac Villanueva got the first out of the seventh and then Bryson Adair singled to left as the sophomore lefty hit the 110-pitch limit. Cade Dodson came on and Gaddis walked on five pitches before Nations singled up the middle to win it.

Gunter had a chance to take the lead in the top of the seventh when Dodson hooked a double into the right-field corner on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. He moved to third on Cooper Wade’s groundout for the second out and Landon Pelfrey’s fly ball to right center hung up long enough for Nations to come over and snag it for the final out.

Daniel tied the game at three with a two-run double in the sixth against Judson Driskell, who came on in relief of Alan Benhardt to start the inning. Pelfrey walked and Colton Jolly singled through the left side before Daniel doubled to straight away center field over the head of Benhardt.

Malakoff made another pitching change, turning to Wes Hustead, to try and keep the score even and he did with a flyout to right and a pair of strikeouts.

Gunter used a two-out rally in the fourth to push across a run. Daniel walked to keep the inning alive for Riekken Bostick, who tripled to right center and the Tigers were on the board and inching closer.

Nations hit a two-run homer into the Malakoff bullpen in left center to stretch Gunter’s deficit to 3-0 in the bottom of the third.

Gaddis walked to open the frame and then Nations pulled an offering and sent it 406 feet to widen the gap.

Jack Davis followed with a walk before three straight outs, two via strikeout, closed the inning.

Malakoff had a chance to extend its lead in the second. Jones opened the inning with a double to right center and went to third on a balk. He never had a chance to get home, however.

There was a scary moment in the inning. The first pitch after the balk, Riggin Smith hit a hard one-hopper back to Villanueva. He made the play to get the out and hold Jones at third but went down immediately after the throw to first.

He stayed in the game after being checked out and throwing three warmup pitches.

Erik Waldo walked before Villanueva got a strikeout. He then hit Benhardt to load the bases but buckled down with another strikeout and it stayed a one-run deficit for Gunter.

Villanueva settled in after Nations’ homer. He set down Malakoff in order in the fourth and fifth innings, then worked around a leadoff walk to Jones in the sixth by retiring the next three to keep him anchored at first.

Malakoff had used a two-out rally in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 advantage. After two quick outs, Gaddis doubled deep to center field and Nations followed with a double to the warning track in center shading towards left to open the scoring.

Villanueva induced a groundout to limit the damage to a single run.

After falling behind, Gunter had an opportunity to immediately answer in the top of the second. Pelfrey and Bostick walked around a sacrifice and a strikeout before Garrett Vogel was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Kaden Rigsby grounded out to short and Benhardt got out of another early jam.

Gunter missed a chance to get on the board right away. Vogel opened the game with a single to left and Rigsby sacrificed him to second. Dodson was hit by a pitch and then a wild pitch moved the runners up.

But Benhardt struck out Trey Oblas and Wade looking to avoid falling behind early.

In the third, Gunter had a two-out base runner when Wade reached on an infield single but he was picked off.

Dodson pulled a one-out single to right in the fifth and went to second on a wild pitch and was stranded there.

Gunter left eight runners in scoring position and lost an out on the bases.

"I was proud we have seven or eight guys in scoring position against Benhardt. He's a seven-inning guy, usually a shutout," Hellman said. "No one had knocked him out in the playoffs."