AUSTIN -- The magical ride of the 2019 Kilgore High School baseball team finally ended on Wednesday, but in the state’s semifinals.
Kilgore lost to Sweeny, 5-1, in the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A semifinals, played at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.
Kilgore finished the year with a 32-8 record.
But there was drama in the final inning.
Kilgore, batting in the bottom of the seventh and down 5-1, Kilgore’s Chase Hampton grounded out to Sweeny shortstop Caden Homniok, who had to make a diving catch and then spun to throw to first for the out; he bobbled the ball hit by Cade Pippen, though, and Pippen reached. A.J. Smith came on as the courtesy runner.
Donovan Adkins flied out to left field, and Jerrick “Deuce” Ervin drew a two-out walk. Connor Martin followed with a single for Kilgore, which loaded the bases for the Diamond ‘Dogs and ran Sweeny starting pitcher Jackson Kiddy off the mound in favor of Homniok, a Texas A&M commit.
Homniok threw three straight balls to Kilgore’s Gus Witt to start Witt’s at-bat before coming back to get Witt to fly out to right field for the game’s final out.
Sweeny celebrated after being congratulated by Kilgore, who received their state tournament medals along the first base line.
The Diamond ‘Dogs have absolutely nothing of which to hang their heads: they were one of the state’s final four, after winning their first five playoff series to reach the state round. They also won their district championship for the third straight year, and set a single-season wins record for the third consecutive season.
Sweeny scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning to bust open what had been a tight game.
Sweeny (31-9) advances to the 4A state final game on Thursday, to face either defending state champ Argyle, who beat Sweeny for the title last year, or La Vernia.
A fairy large contingent of Kilgore faithful made the trek to Austin for the tournament, Kilgore’s first in 47 years.
Sweeny took the lead in the first at-bat of the game. Hampton walked lead-off Joe Effenberger, but then Effenberger was thrown out at second when Homniok reached on a fielder’s choice. Wes Folse popped out to Pippen, but then clean-up hitter Quinton Martin hit a single in a gap between third and short. Homniok scored, and then Hampton struck out Nathan Nance swinging.
Witt drew a two-out walk for Kilgore in the bottom half of the first, and then went to second base on a long single to right field by Khalon Clayton. McFarland tied the game at 1-all with a single to shallow center that scored Witt. Thompson lined out to second to end the inning.
Sweeny and Kilgore both moved quickly through the second inning. Hampton struck out Blake Benavides looking to start the inning, and then got Braden Norris to fly out to Ervin in center field for out two. Collin Coker was tagged out at first for the final out. After two quick outs in Kilgore’s bottom of the second, Adkins hit a grounder to short for the inning’s final out, still tied up at 1-all.
The top of the third inning had a little drama.
Batting in the ninth hole of Sweeny’s lineup, Cord Flipp led off the third and reached on an error. Effenberger walked, giving Sweeny two on with no outs.
Homniok reached on a fielder’s choice when Witt elected to throw to third to attempt an out, but Flipp beat the throw, and the play loaded the bases, still with no one out for Sweeny.
Hampton flipped a switch, then, and struck out Folse. Martin, who came up big in the first inning, popped up a high fly that Kilgore’s Brayden Johnson snagged for out two.
He walked Nance, though, to bring home a run and put Sweeny in front, 2-1, and then a ball thrown to Benavides brought Kilgore coach Eugene Lafitte to the mound. Benavides took Hampton to a full count but struck out swinging to get Kilgore out of the inning, allowing just the one run after having the bases loaded with no outs.
Witt again started Kilgore’s bottom of the inning with a two-out walk. But this time, though, Kiddy got Clayton to fly out to right field to escape the threat.
Norris grounded out to Connor Martin at third base in the top of the fourth, and then Hampton struck out Coker for the second out.
Flipp put the ball in play, a slow roller to short, and it was scored a base hit. Effenberger brought the top of the lineup back up next, but flied out to McFarland for out three.
Thompson looked to have a base hit in the bottom of the fourth for Kilgore, but Sweeny right fielder Martin made a nice running catch of a hard-hit ball, covering quite a bit of ground to rob Thompson of the hit. Hampton grounded to shortstop to end the inning.
Homniok got a lead-off single in the top of the fifth. Folse walked to give Sweeny two on, no outs, shades of the third inning. Martin doubled to score both, and to give Sweeny a 4-1 lead.
Nance grounded out, but Martin went to third on the play, with one out. Benavides singled to score Martin, and Sweeny took a 5-1 advantage. And things got worse, as Norris singled to leave Sweeny with runners at second and third, with just one out.
This brought Johnson onto the mound, and sent Hampton to first base. Johnson got Coker to ground out, then struck out Flipp to finally end the top of the fifth, but not before Sweeny grabbed a 5-1 lead.
Ervin drew a two-out walk for the ‘Dogs in the bottom of the fifth, but Sweeny got Connor Martin to ground out to end the inning.
McFarland got a two-out triple in the bottom of the sixth, but was left stranded at third. Sweeny had a pair of base hits in the top of the seventh by Norris and Coker, but Flipp flied out to right field for out two, and McFarland made a nice throw to third to get Norris for out three.
Sweeny completed the game after holding off Kilgore’s late-charging comeback in the seventh.
Kilgore was credited with four hits in the game: McFarland went 2-for-3 with the triple and an RBI; Clayton and Connor Martin each had hits.
Hampton threw 4 1/3 innings and struck out five. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits and walked four. Johnson threw the final 2 2/3 innings for Kilgore, allowing no runs, three hits and walked one, with one strikeout.
Kiddy went almost the entire game for Sweeny, throwing 6 2/3 innings. He struck out five, allowed the four hits, and walked four. Homniok faced just Witt at the end of the game.
Quinton Martin went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI for Sweeny, who got two hits from Norris and Flipp, as well, and a hit each from Effenberger, Homniok, and Coker.
For the record, in the contest, the Diamond ‘Dogs wore white jerseys and pants with white hats, the Kilgore red bill with the ‘K’ emblazoned on the front, red numerals and “Bulldogs” written in red across the fronts of their jerseys. Sweeny wore Columbia blue jerseys with white numerals and lettering, white pants, and a white cap with the blue bill.
As the home team, Kilgore set up in the dugout along the first base line.
Kilgore’s complete 2019 season roster, with numbers: Cade Pippen (1), Jerrick “Deuce” Ervin (2), Chase Hampton (3), Jayce McFarland (4), Khalon Clayton (5), Karson Gee (6), Chris LaRoux (7), Cole Thompson (8), Payton Fyffe (9), Sam Witt (10), Connor Martin (11), Kyle Wheeler (12), Gus Witt (14), A.J. Smith (16), Brayden Johnson (18), Dalton McElyea (20), Donovan Adkins (23), and Spencer Thompson (24).
Starting for the ‘Dogs was Hampton on the mound, Clayton at catcher, Ervin in center, Martin at third base, Witt at shortstop, McFarland in right, Adkins in left, Pippen at second, Johnson at first, and Thompson as the designated hitter.
Lafitte is assisted by longtime KHS assistant Joey Pippen, Jason Gunn and Josh Riley. Darrell “Red” Ganus is the program’s trainer, and Brandon Mayers is the student trainer. Dominik Shipman is the team’s statistician, and former Bulldog pitcher Collin Pippen the intern.
Prior to the state tournament, Kilgore swept Liberty-Eylau in the first round (3-2, 5-4), beat Wills Point in round two (8-1, 8-7), topped then second-ranked Pleasant Grove in round three (10-1, 0-10, 4-2), outlasted Melissa in the Region II semifinals (0-2, 14-3, 4-3), and then beat Benbrook (8-0, 13-4) in a lopsided RII final series.
This was the fourth appearance in the UIL state baseball tournament in the tradition-rich history of the KHS baseball program. The Bulldogs went in 1960, 1971, 1972 and this season, and had a few near-misses in 2004 and in 2018.
One Bulldog has to return to the Austin area next weekend: recently-graduated senior shortstop Gus Witt, named to the Texas High School Baseball Association’s 46th annual All-Star Game, the third straight year a Kilgore player will be in the all-star lineup.