TYLER – For the second straight year, the Kilgore High School baseball Bulldogs are within striking distance of the state tournament.

Kilgore took a 3-1 lead in game three of the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A Region II playoff here at Mike Carter Field Saturday afternoon, only to see the Cardinals rally and tie the game in the sixth inning.

But the Bulldogs got good pitching late from Dalton McElyea and scored one more run in the bottom of the sixth, then a couple of clutch outs in the seventh, to win, 4-3, and punch their ticket to 4A’s fifth round for the second year in a row.

Kilgore (30-7 on the season so far), coached by Eugene Lafitte, will face Benbrook this week in the 4A Region II finals. Benbrook, a program in Fort Worth, eliminated Kilgore’s district rival Spring Hill with a 5-2 win over the Panthers in that series’ game three on Saturday. The Bobcats come into the series with Kilgore with a 29-5-2 overall record, having won eight of their last nine.

Game one of the series will be tonight at 7:30 p.m. right back at Mike Carter Field in Tyler. Game two will be Thursday night at 7:30, but at Dallas Baptist University.

If a game three is needed, it’ll be Friday night at Rockwall, again a 7:30 p.m. start time.

There is inclement weather in the forecast this week. See kilgorenewsherald.com for possible changes to the games.

Of course, the big prize on the line in the series with Kilgore and Benbrook is a trip to the 4A portion of the UIL state baseball tournament, played at the University of Texas in Austin, at Disch-Falk Field where the Longhorns play.

The final four teams in the state, one from each region (I through IV), meet on Wednesday afternoon, June 5, at Disch-Falk: the first game is at 1 p.m. that day, the second at 4.

The 4A state title game is the following day, Thursday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m.

Kilgore 4, Melissa 3 (Saturday): In game three, as was expected, there was drama – and a lot of it late in the game.

Melissa’s Trevor Brooks tied the game at 3-all in the top of the sixth on a sacrifice fly, but the Cardinals stranded the base-runners.

In the bottom of the sixth, Donovan Adkins got his third hit of the game, and gave Kilgore the chance it needed to break the 3-3 tie.

And recently-graduated Jerrick “Deuce” Ervin did it, a sacrifice fly to left-center field to score courtesy runner A.J. Smith to put Kilgore back up, 4-3.

Melissa wouldn’t go away, though. Two reached with no out in the top of the seventh. But McElyea, just a sophomore, played above his age, striking out two batters to end the game.

When the final batter, Sean Turnage, struck out looking, Kilgore’s infield celebrated – and then they were immediately joined by the rest of the outfield and the dugout, as Melissa’s season came to an end.

After a scoreless first inning, it was the Cardinals that put up a run first.

With an out in the books after a pop-up catch to Cade Pippen at second base, Melissa’s Tyler Womack was hit by a pitch, and then went all the way to third on a single by Haydn Schafer.

For a moment, it looked like the ‘Dogs might get out of the inning without allowing the run to come home – Turnage popped up to Gus Witt at shortstop. But then Hurst singled to left field and scored Womack for the 1-0 Melissa lead.

Martin got Kilgore out of the inning by striking out Dillon Youngblood.

The Bulldogs got things going in the bottom of the second, too. Jayce McFarland managed a lead-off walk, and then Cole Thompson singled him to second. Chase Hampton singled, too, and the ‘Dogs had the bases loaded with no outs.

Pippen made it pay off. He didn’t get a hit, but he did ground out, forcing Melissa to make a choice. The shortstop, Jayton Cepica, made the choice to go to first. Pippen was out, but McFarland scored on the play to tie the game.

The Bulldogs went in front 2-1 on the very next at-bat, when Thompson scored on a passed ball. Hampton made it 3-1 when Adkins singled to center field.

Jerrick “Deuce” Ervin drew a one-out walk, and that moved Adkins up to second. The Cardinals got Martin to ground out, and Witt to fly out to get out of the inning, still trailing 3-1.

Melissa threatened again in the top of the third, with Brayden Johnson coming on to pitch for Kilgore. Brooks singled to center field, but then Sam Crain grounded into a double play, from Pippen to Witt to Hampton (at first base). Cepica tried to keep it going with a single, but the next batter popped up for out three.

Melissa loaded the bases in the top of the fourth, and with two outs and the beginning of their line-up coming up, they only managed to get one run out of it, a bases-loaded walk and run scored by Brooks to get it within a run (3-2 Kilgore). Johnson got Kilgore out of it by getting Sam Crain to pop up to Hampton at first base.

In the bottom of the fifth, Khalon Clayton managed a double with an out already in the books, but Kilgore couldn’t bring him home.

It all worked out in the end, though, for the Diamond ‘Dogs, who got to this round a year ago, losing to Argyle. This time out, though, Kilgore hopes to script a happier ending.

Martin started the game and pitched the first two innings, with two strikeouts, allowing the one run on two hits. Johnson threw 3 1/3 innings and gave up two runs. He struck out one, walked three and allowed three hits.

McElyea only had two strikeouts, but they were the game’s final two outs. He threw the last 1 2/3 innings, allowing no runs, no hits and a walk.

At the plate, Clayton had the double; Thompson and Hampton each had singles.

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