EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated now with numbers and play-by-play from game three.
Liberty-Eylau came to Kilgore Friday night with the idea of being on the winning end of the UIL Class 4A baseball best-of-three series, over the Kilgore Bulldogs.
Ultimately, that’s what happened – but it took a while to get there.
This Kilgore team, many of whom were left over from the 2019 team that made it to the 4A state tournament, would not go away easily, fighting tooth and nail with L-E for hours into the night. L-E had beaten Kilgore, 3-1, in game one on Thursday, but the Diamond ‘Dogs rose up, coming from behind to beat the Leopards, 3-2, in game two.
Kilgore led for much of the tiebreaking game three, but in a different role at Driller Park: as visitor. Kilgore held a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the seventh, but try as they might, they couldn’t hold it. L-E had to work, but scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and won the game, 7-6.
The Leopards move on to play either Kaufman or Wills Point in the second, or area, round.
For Kilgore, the season is uncharacteristically over. Coach Eugene Lafitte’s Bulldogs finish the season with a 16-12 record.
More on game three when statistics are finalized. Before there could be a game three, Kilgore had to win game two to force it.
And they did it, in exciting fashion.
Kilgore extended its season with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Leopards.
Kilgore trailed 1-0 for most of the game, with pitcher Dalton McElyea holding L-E at bay. Liberty Eylau had beaten Kilgore 3-1 in game one on Thursday night, and could have sealed the series with the win.
But in the bottom of the sixth, now behind 2-0, the Diamond ‘Dogs started a rally.
Cade Pippen singled to center field to open the inning, and then McElyea doubled on a grounder to left. That sent Pippen, the game-tying run, to third.
Chris Ervin drew a full-count walk, and loaded the bases, and then Hunter Pipak tied the game, scoring Pippen on a single to center. McElyea would score on the hit, too, and then Ervin came home on the long throw home – three runs scored and gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.
The Leopards notched three straight outs, but now trailed. Coach Eugene Lafitte had put Heath LaFleur on the mound, and LaFleur pulled off a pretty fantastic feat: he struck out the side in the top of the seventh, ending the game and sending the series to a tiebreaking game three.
The winner advances to round two, or the area round, of the 4A playoffs, and will face either Wills Point or Kaufman.
Kilgore had six hits, none bigger than Pipak’s sixth-inning single. Donovan Adkins, Pippen, and Pipak each had a hit, and McElyea went 3-for-3, including that double.
McElyea threw 5 1/3 innings, 111 pitches, and struck out seven. He walked two and gave up just the one earned run on five hits. LaFleur only threw 1 2/3 innings, but he was very impressive, too, allowing one unearned run and just two hits, walking only one, and striking out five, including all three batters in the seventh inning with L-E desperate for a hit.