Bobcats advance to fourth round of playoffs
Last updated 5/24/2022 at 12:40pm
The Orangefield Bobcats advanced to the fourth round of the state baseball playoffs last week. The Bobcats used an awesome display of offense to overwhelm the Livingston Lions and sweep their best of three series in two straight games.
The series was split between two neutral sites both with artificial turf in case of rain. Game 1 was at Port Neches-Groves with Orangefield serving as the home team and the second game was played in Cleveland with the home team being Livingston.
Orangefield Coach Tim Erickson got what he wanted with a best of three game series because statistics showed the Lions' best pitcher Damian Ruiz was undefeated on the season with an earned run average of under a run a game. The Bobcats and Erickson were counting on their two main starting pitchers Coop Longron and Trent Eaves along with third and fourth pitchers Jason Bodin and Kolbie Sowell to make the difference for Orangefield over three games instead of just a single winner take all matchup.
Pitching may have been the difference for the Bobcats who got two quality starts from Longron and Eaves, but the real difference was the Orangefield bats pounded the ball scoring a dozen runs in each game. The Bobcats have rolled up 53 runs in their first six playoff games, all wins.
The first game of the series on Thursday was expected to be a pitchers' duel between the aces of the two teams. Longron for Orangefield like Ruiz of the Lions was undefeated on the season with a very low earned run average.
The Bobcats did not waste any time showing they could hit Ruiz as Kameryn Henderson tripled off the top of the centerfield fence to start the bottom half of the first inning. Henderson scored the first run of the game on a passed ball to put Orangefield up 1-0 after one inning.
In the third inning the Bobcats went ahead 3-0 scoring two runs after two were out. Kolbie Sowell grounded a single to left followed by a base hit to center by Jason Bodin to put two Bobcats on with two outs.
Trent Eaves walked to load the bases. Brennon Lecoq cleared the bases with a shot to center which unfortunately bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. Eaves was forced to return to third base because of the ground rule which cost the Bobcats a run as he and Lecoq were left stranded when the inning ended.
Orangefield's Longron retired ten of the first eleven Lions he faced. Ruiz is not just a good pitcher, he may be the best hitter for Livingston. Ruiz started a rally in the top of the fourth with a one-out single and then stole second.
Josh Smith and Caden Vickery followed with hits scoring Ruiz to narrow the Bobcat lead to two. The Lions' Jordan Bush got an infield single to drive in the second Livingston run and make the score 3-2 with the Bobcats up by one run.
Two out magic worked again in the bottom of the fourth. Kyle Michael was hit by a pitch from Ruiz after two were out, and Kolbie Sowell made the Lions pay by homering over the left field fence his second four-bagger in back-to-back playoff games to give Orangefield a 5-2 lead after four.
Livingston answered in the top of the fifth as Tay McNeal laid down a perfect bunt for a hit to start the inning. Longron retired the next two Lion hitters before Ruiz and Josh Smith both singled again to load the bases.
Longron appeared to have ended the potential rally when he picked Smith off of first. A run down ensued that the Bobcats made a total mess of allowing the runner at third to score without even a throw home and Ruiz to score from second when a throw to first base sailed into the Livingston dugout. The Lions accepted the two gift runs making the score 5-4.
Lions' Coach Jarrad Maddox opted to move Ruiz from the mound to centerfield apparently in order to save his arm for possible future use in either games two or three if necessary. As a result Mitchell Hathaway became the Livingston pitcher to start the bottom of the fifth.
The first Bobcat batter he faced was Eaves, and Hathaway walked him. Kane Smith courtesy ran for Eaves. Lecoq was hit by a pitch. Caleb Fregia sacrificed the runners up a base before Kane scored on a wild pitch to give Orangefield a two-run advantage 6-4 after five innings.
A new pitcher Lane Ward came in for Livingston in the bottom of the sixth. He hit three of the first four Bobcat batters he faced Michael, Sowell, and Eaves with pitches to load the bases with one out.
Lecoq delivered again with a double down the right field line to bring home Michael and Sowell. Morgan Sampson walked as a pinch hitter and Cameron Dearing courtesy ran for him. That was all for Ward who was relieved by Chevy Peters as the fourth Lions' pitcher.
Brayden Babin who courtesy ran for Eaves scored on a wild pitch. Lecoq came home on a squeeze bunt by Fregia. Henderson hit a ground rule double to drive in Dearing before scoring himself on a base hit by Michael for the sixth run in the sixth to give Orangefield a 12-4 advantage with one inning to go.
Maybe a little tired after six innings of pitching or just stiff after the long rest when the Bobcats were scoring in the previous half inning, Longron surrendered doubles to Gage Morris and Ruiz in the seventh for a Lions' run. Josh Smith added another run for Livingston with his third hit of the game to make the score 12-6 before the Bobcat pitcher got the last two outs on routine pop ups.
Coop Longron pitched a complete game for the Bobcats with no walks and seven strikeouts. He is still undefeated on the mound this year for Orangefield.
Coach Erickson of Orangefield was pleased with the pitching from Longron. "We had one little screwup on a pickoff situation that scored two runs, you take that away and it's really a dominate performance. He just keeps people off balance, he throws strikes, and the kids like playing defense behind him because he works fast. He's been like that all year," Erickson reminded.
After the game Erickson admitted to feeling pretty good for the Bobcats' chances after winning the opener of the series. "We play three for a reason, but we want to take care of it in two," Erickson explained.
The second game was played Friday night at the beautiful Hal McClelland Sports Complex on the Cleveland High School campus. The baseball field is all synthetic surfaced with a non-symmetrical configuration that includes a 30-foot high "green monster" wall in left field only 290 feet down the line and dead center is 365 feet from home plate.
The pitchers were Trent Eaves for the Bobcats against Kasen Nelson for the Lions. It was a close game for two innings.
Livingston opened the scoring in the bottom of the first as the first three Lion batters Gage Morris, Jordan Hudson, and Damian Ruiz all reached base on a walk and two singles resulting in a run while placing runners at second and third with no outs. Eaves bore down and retired the next three Lions on a short fly ball to right and two strikeouts to keep the score 1-0 in favor of Livingston.
The Lion outfielders robbed Orangefield of two potential base hits early with Tay McNeal making a shoestring catch in left of a liner hit by Kyle Michael in the top of the first, and in the second Ruiz racing to deepest center to grab a long fly hit by Jason Bodin. The Livingston lead lasted until the third.
The bottom of the batting order started things for Orangefield as Caleb Fregia singled to right for the Bobcats' first hit off Nelson. Kameryn Henderson executed a picture perfect bunt which he beat out for a single.
Tyler Shearin likewise bunted. The Lions appeared like they wanted to go for the lead runner at third but then saw Fregia was already approaching the base so no throw was made and all three Bobcat runners were safe.
Michael came to bat with the Livingston infield playing in and grounded to first base. The throw home eluded the catcher allowing Fregia to score, and Henderson hustled all the way from second to tally a second run to put Orangefield up 2-1 with no outs and two runners still on base.
Those two Bobcats scored when Bodin blasted another drive to center but a little more to the right out of Ruiz' range for a triple. The four runs put Orangefield up 4-1 over Livingston.
Morgan Sampson was the Bobcats' designated hitter in the second game. He started the fourth inning with a walk. Caleb Fregia chopped a grounder in front of the mound. Pitcher Nelson fielded the ball made a bad throw which allowed Sampson to score and Fregia to advance to second base.
A wild pitch moved Fregia to third before Henderson was hit by a pitch. Kameryn stole second and went to third on a passed ball that scored Fregia with the second run of the inning. Shearin hit a sacrifice fly to center that brought Henderson home to put the Bobcats up by six runs.
Michael and Sowell kept the rally rolling with base hits off Nelson before he was relieved by Mitchell Hathaway. Bodin walked to load the bases. Eaves hit a grounder to the left side on which the Lion shortstop made a diving stop but his throw to third was not in time to get the force out on Sowell as Michael scored leaving the bases loaded.
Lecoq drew a walk to drive in Sowell with the fifth run of the inning. Sampson who started the rally ended it with a double to the base of the "green monster" in left center to score the last three runs of the eight-run inning giving Orangefield an eleven-run lead, 12-1, with the opportunity for the ten-run rule.
Eaves survived the first to pitch hitless baseball over the next three innings finishing with five strikeouts for his four innings. Bodin pitched the fifth inning and after two Lions reached base with one out he converted a grounder back to the mound into a game ending double play.
The solid pitching from Eaves and Bodin were a key to the Bobcat victory. Erickson evaluated, "Trent did not have his best stuff, but goes out and gives up one run. That just tells you how good he is, how good he can be especially whenever he's got everything working for him, but it's good to see him get out there and compete. He struggled a little bit in the first inning, then settled in, and did real well. It was good to get Bodin on the mound because we don't want to go too long without guys getting some mound time during games."
The easy win in the second game was a pleasant change from the first two series for Orangefield according to Coach Erickson. "We had struggled in game twos, so far, 2-1 against Liberty and then had to hit a walk-off homerun in the second round to win that one. We just wanted to come out to finish the series today, and we did a good job of that. We put pressure on them, we were able to put some bunts down, get some people on base, and come up with big hits whenever we had runners in scoring position. I think that was the difference," Erickson commented.
For the second year in a row the Orangefield Bobcats have advanced to the regional semifinals of the state baseball playoffs. In 2021 the Bobcats were defeated 3-2 in a one-game playoff by the Rusk Eagles at Huntsville.
This week Rusk was defeated in a playoff against the China Spring Cougars that concluded on Monday. Orangefield and China Spring will play in a best of three-game series that will be played Wednesday and Thursday because of graduation ceremonies to be held for the two schools on Friday and Saturday.
Coach Erickson wanted the best of three format. "That's been working well for us, so far, I think we've got the arms to play three so that works in our favor," Erickson concluded.
Game 1 of the playoff will be Wednesday at 7:00 PM in Navasota. The second game is scheduled for Conroe Grand Oaks High School on Thursday starting at 4:30 PM. A third game if necessary would follow there, 30 minutes later.