ANNA — After six innings of tight struggle between playoff-bound Anna and Princeton on Tuesday, April 24, the Panthers finally pulled way with two runs in the seventh for a 6-3 win on Senior Night at the Anna Sports Complex.
With this result — and Melissa’s coinciding loss at Celina — Princeton claimed District 11-4A’s outright championship with a 9-1 record. Anna, with Aubrey’s defeat of Bonham, enters the post-season as the district’s fourth seed.
The Coyotes tallied six hits and three runs off Princeton ace Austin Hitchcock over his five-inning stint — no small feat — and struck out four times with a walk. Arturo Ramirez threw the sixth and seventh for the Panthers, permitting one hit and a walk with two Ks.
Jaden Torres got the start for Anna and went three innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and two walks with no strikeouts. In the fourth, Torres gave way to Derek Kirschner who worked 3.2 innings, permitting five hits, a strikeout and a walk for three earned runs. Jaden Adams came on in the seventh for the Panthers’ final out.
Colton Brown swung the big bat for Anna, going 3-for-4 with an RBI, while teammates Jacob Williams and Rawley Hector each went 2-for-3. Hector also posted an RBI triple and Zach Howard notched an RBI as well.
“I thought both teams played well,” Coyotes head coach Joey Hector said. “We went with a little different lineup, had to get some guys on the field that hadn’t seen field time in a little bit. We’re trying to get everything shored up for the playoffs and make sure we’ve got guys ready to play a three-game series if that’s what we get.
“I thought we did a good job against their pitcher. He’s tough to hit and we hit the ball pretty well against him. Anytime you go up there and get one hit off that guy, it’s something. They’re obviously the best team in the district. Coach [Leroy] Mansanales did a great job over there.”
Trailing, 1-0, before their first at-bat, Anna took the lead with two runs in the bottom of the first. Brown opened the half-inning with a single to the left side and, after a strike out, Hector sent a 1-1 pitch to the wall in right field for an RBI-triple. Howard’s ground-out to the shortstop allowed Hector to race home for a 2-1 Anna advantage.
Princeton quickly tied it up with back-to-back two-out doubles in the third. A ground-out to Hector at shortstop ended the threat. The Panthers scratched ahead, 4-2, with lone runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Williams led off Anna’s fifth with a single to left and, after a strikeout and a walk, Adams was safe on a fielder’s choice, moving Williams to third. Brown’s two-out single to left then scored Williams and the Coyotes were down by one. Hitchcock got out the inning with a fly ball to right.
No runs were plated in the sixth, but in the final frame Princeton got going with two outs. After Kirschner got the first two batters to fly-out on first-pitch swings, the next batter was hit by a pitch. An error on a single to right then moved runners to second and third before Elian Guerra brought them both home with a sharp single to the right side.
Ramirez retired the Coyotes in order to end the contest.
Playing their final regular-season game for Anna this night were seniors Brown, Williams and Gabe Surdukan. Hector called them “a great group — the three that stuck it out with us. …We had a whole lot more than that that but for one reason or another they didn’t make it to the last year. For those three that stuck it out, I’m tremendously grateful to them. They’re wonderful kids. As far as what they’re going to do when they get older, I don’t worry about any of them. They’re going to be top-notch, productive citizens. Baseball is just one of the things that they do. It’s not what they are. They’ve helped our entire program.”
Anna’s playoff details are not yet known. Hector hopes to get in a warm-up game or two before the bi-district round begins May 5. “When you’ve got two guys like Zach Howard and Rawley Hector that pitched a majority of our district games, it’s hard to develop kids in practice,” he said. “Getting these couple of games in and getting those kids on the mound and competing in that setting, it’s going to help us.”
This will be the Coyotes’ second trip to the post-season in three years — their third since Hector arrived six years ago. Their most recent appearance, a four-deep run in 2016, was followed last season by a 1-9 district campaign. “It’s huge for these kids, huge for the community,” Hector said of getting back to the playoffs. “Sometimes it doesn’t always look like it, but we work pretty hard out here. We’ve come a long way. For them to see their hard work pay off and get rewarded for it, I’m really proud for those kids — and for me, personally, and for my coaching staff. For Coach [Jorge] Rubio and Coach [James] Patterson to come here and make such big contributions has been huge to our program.”
“This season we went far,” said designated-hitter Williams. “We learned a lot. We had graduated a lot of seniors so last year … we just never clicked, I guess. This year we’re coming back. We’ve got a couple of freshmen that are really good. They’re contributing to the team. It means a lot, senior year, to come back and have the ball rolling and get into the playoffs.”
“It was a tough season last year,” Anna third baseman Jayden Rodgers said. “But coming back with this new team, I feel really good about our situation.” He added that a key strength of this team is its defense. “We approached this game [with Princeton] aggressively. We weren’t going to lay back knowing we’re in the playoffs. We’re going to come aggressive — every time, every game, no matter what.”