Kilgore didn’t win its final regular season game of the year at Driller Park on Saturday, but the Diamond ‘Dogs did give a 3A power all it wanted, as the postseason is coming quickly – like Friday.
The Bulldogs will face Liberty-Eylau, a Texarkana-area school, in the first round of the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Class 4A baseball playoffs. It’s a best-of-three-game series. Game one will be Friday night at Liberty-Eylau, at 6 p.m.
Game two will be S, here at Saturday at Driller Park, at 1 p.m., and if a third game is needed to decide the series, it will follow 30 minutes after game one.
The series was originally to be Thursday-Friday, but that was changed because of testing.
L-E is a familiar opponent for Kilgore. The Bulldogs' last complete season (2019), Kilgore beat the Leopards to open the season, then beat them again in back-to-back games in a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs.
Central Heights, a 20-plus game winner again under coach Travis Jackson, came to town Saturday afternoon to face a Bulldogs’ team that finished the District 16-4A schedule with a handful of losses, but still managed to clinch a berth in the playoffs. With Heights, a regular contender in 3A, Kilgore faced a challenge that could give a boost to the Bulldogs headed into the playoffs.
They didn’t get the win – that went to Heights, 14-11 – but down 14-8 headed into the bottom of the seventh and final inning, Kilgore scored three runs and had another in scoring position before the Blue Devils finally got the third out and left breathing a sign of relief.
It was a back-and-forth game, and the Devils drew first, plating four runs in the top of the first.
And then Kilgore swung the momentum back, showing Central Heights and their own KHS fans what this team – which went to the state tournament the last time the state tournament was actually played – is capable of.
Kyle Wheeler got it started with a single to right field, and then regular lead-off man Donovan Adkins drew a walk, a 4-1 count.
Cade Pippen hit a grounder to third and then reached on an error – Wheeler got safely to third, as well, so with the bases loaded (Wheeler at third, Adkins at second and then Pippen at first), Dalton McElyea drew the bases-loaded walk. Ryan Beddingfield, who was running for Wheeler, scored the walked-home run, getting the Bulldogs on the scoreboard (4-1).
Chris Ervin was up next, putting the ball in play and reaching on a fielder’s choice, as CH elected to get Pippen out at third. Adkins scored a run, though, cutting into the lead more (4-2), with McElyea at third and Ervin standing safely at first.
Jake Thompson’s bat spoke loudly. He took a strike, then a ball, and then hit a triple to right field, scoring McElyea and Ervin to tie the game at 4.
Thompson scored on a passed ball, putting the ‘Dogs in front, 5-4, and then Hunter Pipak, who would have a big hit of his own later in the game, earned a walk.
Thomas Hattaway singled, a grounder to left, and Hunter went to second, and then everybody advanced when Bryce Long drew a walk, loading the bases again.
Who came up for more? Wheeler, who got things started, and then kept it going, another single, this time to center, for an RBI, plating Pipak. Kilgore would get one more run over the plate: Adkins hit a sacrifice grounder that scored Hattaway. Long moved up to third and Beddingfield, again running for Wheeler, but Heights got the third out – after Kilgore had taken a 7-4 lead.
Heights re-claimed the advantage, a muscle flex of their own, by scoring four runs in the fourth inning and two more in the top of the fifth (10-7 Heights).
The Bulldogs got a run of their own in the bottom of the sixth. Pippen managed a two-out single to right field, then scored on a single to left by McElyea. Ervin followed with a double, boosting McElyea to third, but Kilgore stranded the runner when Heights got that third out.
With KHS trailing just 10-8, things looked good for a comeback – Heights had other ideas, scoring four runs in the top of the seventh to make things much, much harder for the ‘Dogs.
Still, they gave it a shot. Pipak belted what would be a triple to center, and then scored on a ground out by Chase Borders (14-9). Long came to the plate and hit a fly ball to left, but there was an error, and Long reached.
Michael Conner popped out to the shortstop for the second out, but then Adkins followed with an RBI double, scoring Long (14-10). Kilgore got one more run: an RBI single by Pippen to score Adkins, and Pippen went to second on the throw, but Heights got the third out for the win.
The Bulldogs finished with 11 hits; the Blue Devils finished with nine.
Adkins finished 2-for-4 with 2 RBI; Pippen went 2-for-4, with an RBI; McElyea went 1-for-3 with 2 RBI; Ervin went 1-for-4 with an RBI; Thompson had a 1-for-4 day with 2 RBI; and Borders had the grounder RBI. Pipak and Hattaway also each had a hit, and Wheeler went 2-for-2 with an RBI.
Again, errors plagued the Bulldogs, who had four in the game, and a few down the course of the final stretch of the regular season. A clean-up will be imperative in that department to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Eugene Lafitte used a host of pitchers in the game, probably by design with the playoffs around the corner. Adkins pitched an inning and allowed four runs (just one earned) on two hits and walked two, on 37 pitches. Heath LaFleur pitched two innings, just 28 pitches, and allowed no runs on just one hit, and walked two.
Chase Lewis pitched an inning, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk, and he struck out one. Pippen threw two innings, allowing two runs (again, just one earned), no hits, walked two and struck out three. Jake Thompson and Wyatt Wilkerson shared the seventh inning; Thompson allowed two hits and three unearned runs, struck out one and had two walks, and Wilkerson allowed no runs, no hits and just a walk, and struck out two.