SPRING — Drama. The first two matchups between The Woodlands and Klein possessed very little, but the final tussle provided plenty of intensity for the packed house at Grand Oaks on Friday evening.
It was the Highlanders who ultimately advanced, earning a 7-3 victory in eight innings over the Bearkats in a one-game playoff for the Region II-6A quarterfinals.
The Highlanders (29-6) scored four runs in the top of the eighth inning to take the lead for good, and pitcher Cameron Caley shut the door on the Bearkats (15-13) in the bottom of the frame. The Woodlands also defeated Klein in two District 15-6A contests this season, both by a score of 6-2. It was much different this time around.
The Woodlands will now play McKinney Boyd (27-12) in the regional semifinals next week. The Broncos defeated Allen in a three-game series this week to advance.
“They’re a great program, and Coach (Barry) Smith does a great job,” The Woodlands coach Ron Eastman said of Klein. “We knew after sweeping them in district and losing the [coin] toss and having to go one game, we knew they’d be prepared and give it their best shot. I think we kind of pressed a little bit, which being the favorite, you can do when things didn’t go our way.”
“You’ve got to tip your hat to their pitching - their first two guys did a great job on the mound keeping us off-balance, and our guys just came back. I think we started to lose our composure a little bit, put some zeroes up, didn’t score runs, and finally, we were able to compose ourselves and put a big inning together there in the eighth.”
The Woodlands put the first run on the board in the top of the first inning as Caley crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly from Drew Romo. Caley led off the contest with a triple, blasting the first pitch he saw to the gap in right-center field.
Klein answered in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases with no outs on the board. The Bearkats tied the game when Anson Eldridge scored on a sacrifice fly from Will Lee. That was all Klein could muster, however, as The Woodlands starter Will Swope limited the damage.
The Highlanders reclaimed the lead in the third inning as Caley collected his second triple of the game, this time while driving in a run. He then scored on a passed ball for the 3-1 edge.
Klein pulled within a run in the bottom of the frame after loading the bases with no outs once again. Connor Schroeder drew a walk to bring a run across the plate, knocking Swope out of the game. Cody Howard came on for the Highlanders and got the final out, however, ending the threat from the Bearkats. Klein stranded five runners, including three in scoring position, in the first three innings.
The Bearkats finally drew even in the fifth inning as Tony Limon came through in the clutch with a two-out RBI single to left field. That was all the scoring Klein would do, however, as Howard and Caley shut them out the rest of the night. Howard went 3 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and zero earned runs while striking out four. Caley finished off the game, striking out seven in 2 2/3 scoreless frames.
“It was huge,” Eastman said of his relievers’ efforts. “Will didn’t have his best stuff, and Cody did such a great job of coming in and shutting them out when we needed that, minimizing the bleeding. And then, obviously, Cam has been lights out lately. We toyed with starting him in this game, and it worked out well with him coming in to close out the last couple innings.”
The Woodlands finally broke the stalemate in the eighth as Casey Sunseri delivered an RBI double to score courtesy runner Daunte Stuart. Sunseri then crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly from Swope, and Dylan McDowell and PJ Villarreal collected RBI singles to cap the scoring.
“I just really think that we didn’t want to go home,” Sunseri said. “So we just had to grind it out, put the ball in play, and good things happened. ... We thought about it all week - one game, we’ve got to go all out. All respect to Klein - they played their butts off, and wow, that was a fun game.”