LINDALE — The Melissa Cardinals rallied from a game down a week ago for an improbable series win against Argyle to stay alive in the Class 3A Region II baseball playoffs.
This time, no comeback will be required for the Cardinals, who used a big opening salvo to vault to within one more win of the region finals.
Stringing together four two-out hits in a row and knocking out Longview Spring Hill’s starting pitcher with five runs in the first inning, the Cardinals (28-8-1) held on the rest of the way for a 7-5 win over the Panthers in Game 1 of a region semifinal series at the Lindale Baseball-Softball Complex.
"Th-ey’ve battled all year long, and that’s their reputation," Melissa coach Joe Williams said of Spring Hill. "Their kids are fighters. We knew our start was crucial in the game, but we never got overconfident because we knew the type of guys they have in the dugout. It was a good win, but it was just Game 1."
The series shifts to Sunnyvale on Saturday for Games 2 and 3, if necessary. Spring Hill will be the home team for Game 2 at 2 p.m., and the teams will flip a coin to determine home and visitor if the series goes to a third game.
Winning pitcher Camden Duzenack lasted four-plus innings and was just effective enough to keep the Panthers at bay. Duzenack, who has signed with Dallas Baptist, allowed four runs on five hits, walking three and hitting a pair of batters.
Grant Meeks tossed two innings of relief and Landon Wilson pitched the seventh, recording the final out on a pickoff at second base with the tying run on base.
"I asked him before the game if … he felt comfortable closing," Williams said. "Then we got into a tight game and the last thing he said was ‘Coach, I want the ball." I gave it to him because I’ve got a lot of confidence in him and he did a great job closing in a tight situation."
The Cardinals didn’t get many hits, accounting for six total, but when they got them, they made them count. Melissa never trailed in the contest, and a big reason was a huge first inning.
Duzenack started it with a walk and Cade Cruce was hit with a pitch by Spring Hill starter Trevor Martin, who recovered to record two fly-ball outs.
But Chris Smith lined a single off Panther third baseman Lane Nesbett’s glove, scoring Duzenack with the first run. That opened the floodgates as Wilson followed with an RBI hit; Meeks doubled into the rightfield corner for two RBI; and Cory Regan followed with another double to score Meeks and end the night for Spring Hill’s Martin.
Spring Hill reliever Eli Reagh came on and finished the game, holding Melissa to just two more runs on two hits in 5 1/3 innings.
"He did a great job keeping us off balance," Williams said of Reagh. "We’ve got to go back to work and address that issue."
Spring Hill (18-14) got one run back in the top of the second and added three more in the fourth before Duzenack induced a comebacker to him to end the uprising.
But the Cardinals got two hugely-important insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth off Reagh. Cruce and Zach Torres each singled, moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch, and scored on sacrifice flies by C.J. Tyler and Smith, respectively, to make it a 7-4 margin.
The Panthers added their final run in the top of the sixth on a pair of infield singles and threatened for more, putting runners on second and third following a passed ball. But Melissa’s Smith speared a line drive by Josh Guarisco for a game-saving third out.
"Chris Smith made a big play there with guys on base," Williams said. "Our defense has been pretty consistent all throughout the playoffs."