After dropping game one of its UIL Class 4A third-round series to Gilmer in a bit of a surprise on Thursday night, Kilgore was fighting for its playoff life on Friday in Gary.
The Bulldogs were almost successful, but they fell just short -- Kilgore beat Gilmer, 2-0, to tie the series up, but then lost a back-and-forth game three, 6-5.
The Diamond ‘Dogs finish the 2017 season with a 26-7-2 record. Gilmer advances to play either Decatur or Sanger next week.
It was the most successful season for Kilgore baseball since spring, 2004, when then-coach Brant Brantley guided the Bulldogs within a game of the state tournament, losing to Cleburne.
In fact, win-and-loss wise, it was the most successful season ever. That 2004 team, which was one win shy of reaching the 4A state tournament, finished 25-11. This year’s Bulldogs were a few playoff rounds shy of that, but finished with one more win – 26-7-2.
That puts the 2017 team in rare company with that ’04 team, along with the two Kilgore teams in 1971 and 1972, which actually got to the state tournament, only to be denied.
Still, without question, ’17 will be remembered as a special year for the boys from Driller Park: a district championship with only one loss, and playoff sweeps of Center and Mabank were key moments.
Kilgore 2, Gilmer 0 (game two): The Bulldogs got clutch performances all season long from Collin Pippen. Friday night’s game two was no exception. Pippen, the only senior on the roster, put the ‘Dogs on his back and delivered, recording 11 strikeouts of the Buckeyes and giving Kilgore a chance.
The Bulldogs came through at the plate, doing enough in the fourth inning to win.
Javan Smitherman and Jerrick “Deuce” Ervin hit back-to-back singles, and then came home on a 2-RBI single by catcher Khalon Clayton.
Those would be the only two runs of the game. Pippen and the defense held Gilmer in check -- he gave up only three hits. Gilmer 6, Kilgore 5 (game three): Kilgore actually ran out in front in this one, as well, but the Buckeyes chipped away at Kilgore’s 4-0 lead, eventually slipping in front, and heldon. Ren Reynolds and Smitherman gave Kilgore the early 1-0 lead, hitting consecutive triples in the top of the first inning. Smitherman’s RBI triple plated Reynolds, and Kilgore would get one more run: Smitherman, scoring on a single by Harlee Biggs. The Bulldogs led, 2-0. Biggs had another hit, and Jayce McFarland added one, too, as Kilgore went up 4-0. Gilmer began its comeback in the bottom of the third on an RBI double by Bryce Burns. Myles Chumley followed with a 2-RBI triple that got the Buckeyes within a run, 4-3. They wouldn’t trail long. Nathan Mize, who had doubled, scored the tying run on a single by Kollin Hurt. Jeremy Kelly plated Hurt for the lead. Kilgore’s last run of the game, as it worked out, was scored by Smitherman -- he had a single, then scored on a hit by Ervin. In the top of the seventh, in Kilgore’s last at-bat as it trailed 6-5, Pippen walked, and then Elijah Williams came on as a courtesy runner. With an out in the book, Williams stole second. But Gilmer got out of the situation, and the series, with a double play -- Biggs smacked the ball on a line drive back to the pitcher, Kade Clemens, who turned and threw out Williams for the final out.
perspective on '71-72, '04
Kilgore has had quite a few successful seasons on the baseball diamond. The 1960 Bulldogs went to the state tournament. In 1963, Kilgore made it to the regional championship round.
And then came coach Bob Masterson’s Diamond ‘Dogs of the early 1970s.
The 1971 team won Kilgore’s third straight district title, their seventh in nine years, last knocking off Henderson on Friday, May 21, 1971, 10-0, to claim that victory.
It was a team of never-say-die, one that finished with a 16-13 record, but made every win count. In fact, the team motto, according to then-News Herald sports columnist Don Eldredge, was “Don’t count us out.”
The Bulldogs beat Clarksville, 12-7, in the bi-district round, and then in the second round, Steve Lacy pitched a shutout over South Grand Praire. SGP beat KHS in game two, but Kilgore won the deciding third game, a 4-3 nailbiter at Turnpike Stadium in Arlington.
A lucky charm
Was it because of Don Hedrick’s golf tee?
During Kilgore’s regular season, one of the Bulldogs, Don Hedrick (you may know him now as one of the voices of Ragin’ Red Broadcasting on Friday nights in football season) found a golf tee during a game at Gladewater.
When Kilgore went on to win that game, Hedrick decided his new find was the Bulldogs’ lucky charm. It became a symbol of sorts, and the Bulldogs kept on winning with it.
In fact, they got all the way to Nelson Stadium in Austin, the 3A state tournament, before losing to Dumas, 3-0, in the semifinals.
Kilgore didn’t miss a beat the following year, winning district yet again, for a fourth consecutive season.
They were on a mission. They beat Mount Pleasant, then Richardson Berkner, in the playoffs along the way, and then found themselves playing in Austin again in yet another state tournament.
They shut out Lamesa, 4-0, in the semifinals, and then took on Taylor in the 3A state title game.
Taylor got the best of Kilgore that day, 4-0, but Kilgore had proven they were a force to be reckoned with on the diamond, and finished with a 20-8 record. One of the Bulldogs, Terry Thrower, almost batted .400 (he had a .383 average).
Some of the guys on those two fantastic KHS teams were Thrower, Danny Patterson, Lacy, Dale Hedrick, Don Hedrick, David Hedrick, Mark Awalt, Mike Alexander, Leslie Plaxco, Cary Dukes, Bobby Rhyne, Roger Welch, Travis Couch, Wade Miller, Keith Peck, Bobby Beane, John David Cox, Lew Sibley, Ray Leroy, Chuck Hinton, George Tucker, Bobby Rhyne, Jay Tucker, Cris Shafer, Danny Leake, Clifton Edney, and Ernie Nyvall.
After going six straight seasons without making the playoffs, Kilgore did in 2004, and in a big way.
Coach Brant Brantley, himself a former Bulldog back in the 1980s, had a team of talent that would be a standard-bearer for years to come.
The Bulldogs, guided by future University of Arkansas and Major League Baseball player Jess Todd and by future University of Texas standout Pat McCrory, won Kilgore’s first district title since 1985. And then they turned up the heat.
The district title earned them a first-round bye. Kilgore knocked off Midlothian in the second round, and then beat a tough Marshall team – a team that was also in their district – in round three.
The game most everyone remembers who followed Kilgore that season was the fourth-round game against Highland Park, a one-game winner-take-all played in Sulphur Springs.
Tensions between the two programs were high, simply because Highland Park had ended Kilgore’s best-ever football season (at that point) just a few months earlier at Rose Stadium – Scots quarterback Matthew Stafford engineered a late-game come-from-behind attempt that sent HPHS by Kilgore late.
Kilgore was hungry for revenge, and the Bulldogs got it – a home run late in the game by Clint Toon, coupled with some nasty pitching by Todd, was enough to get Kilgore out with a 4-3 win, advancing the Bulldogs to the regional finals against Cleburne.
It would go to three games – Cleburne took game one, and then the Bulldogs bounced back for a 4-2 win in game two. But in Waxahachie, Cleburne got the best of Kilgore in game three, and advanced to the state tournament.
That team read like a who’s who of Kilgore athletics, names that are still talked about today: Todd and Toon and McCrory, to be sure, but Josh Majors, a better-than-good catcher, was on that team. Trey Sands and Robert Nichols were on the team, as well, and a youngster who would go on to be a phenomenal football player, Eddie Jones, was an outfielder.
Clay Swetnam, Jacob Copeland, Andrew Terrell, Brady Whitmer, Jay Philpott, Mikel Wheeler, Austin McShan, Kyle Shipp, Chase Patterson and Collin Landers – all those guys made up the team that, until this year, owned the single-season record for wins.
The Bulldogs' program is on its fourth coach since then -- Tim Harkrider, the late Jeff Blackstone, soon-to-be-KHS principal Charles Presley have preceded current coach Charles Foshee, who just finished his fourth season. But the one constant in Bulldogs' baseball: winning. And, as the adage goes, that never graduates.