SPRING — As Casey Sunseri stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth inning, the stage was set for senior third baseman to propel his team toward a victory.
Courtesy runner Daunte Stuart was at third base after an errant pickoff throw allowed him to advance from one corner of the diamond to the other. Facing a 1-2 count against Klein reliever Trevor Werner, Sunseri saw the pitch he wanted and connected.
“I got my foot down really early, ready for the fastball,” Sunseri said. “He hung one, and I just took it hard, hit it hard somewhere.”
That somewhere was the left-center field gap, resulting in a double that easily allowed Stuart to skip joyfully across the plate. The Highlanders had a 4-3 lead over the Bearkats, and they never looked back. The Woodlands tacked on three more runs before closing out the 7-3 triumph, advancing to the Region II-6A semifinals for the second consecutive season.
When the flood gates open for the Highlanders’ offense, they’re hard to shut. Once Sunseri brought the first run across in the eighth, The Woodlands coach Ron Eastman could feel the momentum shift.
“Very much so,” he said. “We’re streaky offensively, and I think most good offensive teams are. If we just hang in there, we know that we can put runs on the board in a hurry, and we did.”
The Woodlands’ talented lineup was productive throughout the regular season, and that trend has continued now that the playoffs have arrived. The Highlanders are averaging more than seven runs per contest in five games against three opponents — Aldine MacArthur, Cypress Woods and Klein.
While the runs have been coming in bunches, the Highlanders have also received some standout pitching performances. Junior Cameron Caley has been dominant in the postseason, striking out 22 batters in just 9 2/3 innings. He tossed a one-hit shutout in Game 3 of the area round against Cypress Woods and slammed the door against Klein while striking out seven of the nine batters he faced.
The Highlanders (29-6) are one victory away from reaching 30 for the first time since 2013 when the program captured its third and last state championship. The Woodlands advanced to the final four last season as the No. 3 seed out of their district, but this time around, the expectation is to end up in Round Rock. The Highlanders will need to advance two more rounds to reach that pinnacle.
The next challenger is McKinney Boyd, which defeated Allen in a three-game series this week to reach the regional semifinals for the first time ever. The Broncos (27-12) and Highlanders will meet for a three-game series at Georgetown East View High School this week. Game 1 will be played at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and Game 2 will follow at the same time on Thursday. Game 3, if needed, will take place at a to-be-determined time at Corsicana on Saturday.
Regardless of the opponent, Sunseri was pleased his team found a way to advance.
“Very excited,” he said. “Get to play with my brothers another round.”