SPRING — In a clash of the top two teams in District 15-6A Tuesday night, The Woodlands emerged on top of the standings.
The Highlanders avenged a loss to Klein Collins last month by beating the Tigers on their home field, 2-0, with a huge pitching performance by Will Swope.
The Woodlands (24-5, 13-2) now controls its chance at an outright district championship with a win over Klein Forest at home on Friday night. Klein Collins (17-6, 13-3) snapped a long winning streak dating back to March 9 as it concluded the regular season with the loss.
In the last meeting between the two teams — the last game The Woodlands lost before nine straight wins - it was the same pitching matchup. Chris Benavides, a Sam Houston State commit, came out on top 1-0 on a three-hitter.
“They are a great team, and (Benavides is) a great pitcher,” The Woodlands coach Ron Eastman said. “They beat us 1-0 the first time and came up on the good side 2-0 tonight. Swope just picked us up and did a great job. Drew (Romo) did a great job behind the plate.”
This time, Swope, a University of Texas signee, threw the complete game and held the Tigers to one hit.
“That’s a really tough lineup,” Swope said afterwards. “We came out knowing it would be a good game between two really good teams. But we came up with the ‘W,’ and that’s really going give us a lot of momentum going into the playoffs.”
The Woodlands had its chances in the first two innings, but left three runners stranded.
In the top of the third, the Highlanders did a fine job manufacturing a run to take the lead.
Romo hit a one-out double to left field. He was then replaced on the base paths by courtesy runner Daunte Stuart.
After Casey Sunseri drew a four-pitch walk and Swope struck out, Stuart was sent in motion on a pitch to Harrison Caley. Caley hit a chopper to short and legged it out at first base. Stuart, meanwhile, burned around third base and made it home to take a 1-0 lead.
“We were able to score early, and that was big to take a little bit of pressure off Will,” Eastman said. “That second run was huge against this team.”
The Highlanders scored that second run in the top of the sixth as Dylan McDowell came home on a wild pitch with Romo at the plate and the bases loaded.
In total, The Woodlands had six hits off Benavides, but struck out 11 times and stranded nine runners. The Highlanders then stranded two more in the top of the seventh against reliever Ryan Jacobs.
“We had many opportunities and just couldn’t come up with the hit,” Eastman said. “You have to tip your hat to their pitcher out there. He did a great job minimizing the damage and kept us from scoring more than two runs.”
Klein Collins got its lone hit in the bottom of the second from Parker Perez. He later was one of two victims caught stealing at second base by Romo. Otherwise, the Tigers had just three base runners and Swope sat down the final nine batters in order.
“We didn’t help our pitcher out enough,” Klein Collins coach Chris Griffin said. “Benavides competed his tail off, and we just didn’t do enough at the plate to put pressure on them. They kind of got to us before we got to them. They had some good at-bats, and they’re a quality team, and they deserved to win.”
Swope, who allowed just four hits and one earned run while striking out six in the last meeting with Klein Collins, had seven strikeouts and a walk this time.
“He’s been lights out all year,” Eastman said. “He’s only lost two district ball games — to (Oak Ridge’s Logan) Letney and Benavides. He was outstanding. His pitch count was extremely low, and we played good defense behind him except for one error.”
Klein Collins started 2-2 in district and has played very well over the past month and change.
“We won 11 in a row coming into this, and that’s tough in a good, quality district,” Griffin said. “We still have a lot of confidence in our abilities. But this puts a sour taste in our mouth, and it’s going to be hard to get rid of this for a few days. But I think it’s going to motivate us.”
Eastman was happy with his group. District 15-6A isn’t an easy league to be on top of. The Highlanders now must beat Klein Forest for a second time this year. The Woodlands won the first time 10-0 over the Golden Eagles.
The Woodlands has won 19 of 21 games heading in.
“I’m real proud,” Eastman said. “It’s one of our goals to bring a district championship back home. We’ve accomplished at least a tie now. Hopefully we can finish the job Friday and take sole possession of first place.”