In this season’s first meeting between the two squads, Melissa’s Cardinals built a 6-0 lead then fended off Anna late for a 6-3 win on March 31 at Sydney Field in Melissa. Cards pitcher Andrew Cole, battling a touch of illness, kept the Coyotes scoreless for 6.2 innings, striking out eight and scattering four hits, before leaving it to Sean Turnage then Adam Davis for the final out. Dalton Vestal and Davis led Melissa hitters this night with two RBIs each, and Vestal’s key third-inning double to left field broke open a scoreless game.

The teams collected five hits each, but the Coyotes committed four errors to Melissa’s one. With the result, the Cards (3-1) stay tied for second place with Aubrey in District 11-4A and Anna (0-4) remains winless in the race.

As the final inning began, Melissa looked to be in control with a 6-0 advantage but the Coyotes wouldn’t go quietly. Jeran Lewis opened the frame with a line-drive double to right followed by Marshall Good reaching on an error at second base that allowed Lewis to score. After a walk to Daniel Scott, Turnage came on with two on and two out. After two walks, including another run. With the Cards’ lead now 6-2 and the tying run coming to bat, Melissa head coach Jason Russell went to Davis. After allowing an RBI single to Zach Howard, Davis struck out Colton Brown on a 3-2 pitch with everybody running to end the game.

“That’s the thing about Anna and Coach Hector, man,” Russell said. “Those guys never quit. We knew we were in for a ball game in that inning. We can’t defend walks. We’ve got to throw strikes and trust our defense. And (our) one error late in the game turned out to be pretty big. We pride our self on our defense, we’ve got to make sure we make the play late in the game.”

“It’s like this every year with these guys,” Anna head coach Joey Hector said. “They’re so well-coached. These kids are such good baseball players. We kind of expect every time we play them for it to be a game like this. Coach Russell does a great job and obviously Melissa is great baseball town. It’s a rivalry for us. I think we’re on the bad end of the rivalry right now, but all our guys came out and competed pretty hard and, obviously, didn’t stop till the very end.”

As for Cole’s performance, Russell said, “Andrew had a little bit of fever tonight. He’ll tell you he wasn’t himself. He was grinding out on the mound. I was proud of him.”

“I just had to go out there and throw strikes,” Cole said. “I didn’t really have my best stuff. I kind of felt a little sick out there. But I came back, battled.”

Vestal called the Coyotes’ rally “a little nerve-wracking” before adding, “They’re a good baseball team that can scratch runs. But we have lots of pitchers that can come in and close a game.”

Howard, Anna’s starting pitcher, went 4.1 innings, permitting four hits and five walks with two strikeouts. Lewis relieved Howard in the fifth with the Coyotes down, 4-0, and allowed no hits the rest of the way, with one walk and a “K.” Howard, Good and Koy Harris each had single RBIs for Anna, and Scott also had a hit for the Coyotes.

In the bottom of the third with one out, Vestal stepped to plate and ripped a 3-2 pitch down the left field line to score Austin Leonard from third base, giving the Cards a 1-0 lead. Brady Morrison followed with a double of his own to left, bringing in Vestal. Davis then grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring Morrison and Melissa led, 3-0.

The Cards added two more in the fifth, one on Davis’ line-drive single to left and the other on an Isaiah Segovia pop-fly single to right. In the sixth, Vestal’s ground out to short brought Leonard home with Melissa’s sixth run.

In his last two games, Vestal has posted three hits in seven at bats with 4 RBIs.

“I thought we played really well,” he said of Friday’s win. “We hit the ball better in certain innings. … We did a job, that’s all that matters.”

Of his clutch swing that broke the tie, Vestal added, “He threw me an inside fast-ball so I pulled on it.”

Hector said though the Coyotes were coming off a disappointing 7-5 loss to Bonham, he knew his team would respond.

“I expected us to play well,” Hector said. “There’s a couple of guys on this team that have played a lot of baseball games the last three years. My seniors are really doing job of understanding the situation, where we’re at and the reality of it. They’re doing a good job of trying to get the young guys to understand how the process works. They’re trying to leave it in better shape than they found it.”

“We battled, we competed,” Harris said. “Our approach at the plate has got to be better. And errors and walks, that’s really what killed us. They had, like, four or five hits. Other than that, we competed. We’ve just got to fix those things and I think we’ll be fine. … It’s big coming out here, especially that last inning, trying to rally back. That’s what we’re looking for in a rivalry game.”

“We played a good team, there’s no denying that,” Anna outfielder Lawrence Goade said. “They’re good. I think we’re good. I think we’re a lot better than what our record shows. We just haven’t been able to put it together. I’m proud of our team for competing. I’m proud of a lot of things we do. We battled back there at the end. There are some things we’ve got to clean up and that just comes with practice and time. We’re a young group but that’s not an excuse.”

“Howard did a great job,” Russell said of the Coyotes’ hurler. “He kept us off balance. Finally, we started laying off some things and he started hanging curveballs to us. So we made that hurt. I’m proud of the way we competed. … It’s always a war when we play those guys.”