PROSPER — The day had been long and eventually reached a windy-hot 90 degrees — the sort of setting where wilting is common and focus is lost. But in a decisive Game 3 with a Class 4A Region II area championship at stake on Saturday, May 12, Melissa’s Cardinals instead rallied from a three-run deficit to stop Sanger, 11-5. Notably, the momentum-snatcher came just after the Cards had suffered a tough 3-2 loss in Game 2. Melissa stormed back to take the finale with some long ball — three home runs to be precise, including Adam Davis’ second-inning grand slam over Prosper High’s conspicuous Green Monster in left field — and a bulldog long-relief turn on the mound by Brady Morrison.
The Cards had prevailed, 5-1, on Friday night.
“We’ve got a lot of senior leadership, a lot of good guys that take control,” Melissa head coach Jason Russell said. “We knew we just needed to fall back on what we’ve done all year. We knew if we kept grinding out at-bats they’d start falling. They jumped out on us but our guys didn’t freak out. We just kept playing.
“We felt like we were never out of it. We feel like we’re never out of any game. It’s always just on to the next batter, the next guy. … Those guys were just grinding. I’m so proud of them.”
“It gets tough sometimes,” Game 2 starter Krisjon Segleski said. “But you’ve just got to keep the energy up because some guys are going to want to get down. And you can’t let that happen in baseball. Baseball is a failing game. You fail seven out of 10 times and you’re in the Hall of Fame. So you’ve got to keep the enthusiasm up. … We just kept our heads up and, in Game 3, we got after it.”
Melissa now draws No. 1 Argyle (30-0) in the regional quarterfinals, a three-game series starting at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 17, at Anna.
Davis went 3-for-4 at the plate in Game 3, with a double to go with his four-run dinger. Morrison and Tyler Womack pumped out solo homers each, with Morrison finishing 2-for-3 with a double and Womack going 2-for-2.
“We finally got some up in the jet stream,” Russell said after this third-straight game with the wind blowing out to left. “We hit the ball hard. Usually that’s what it’s going to take. A lot of times in the third game it’s a little bit more of slugfest and not much of a pitcher’s duel, even with as many pitchers as we have. We knew we were going to have to swing it in Game 3. They met the challenge today.”
“A good team put the bat on it and made us pay for our mistakes,” Sanger head coach Steve Ford said.
Morrison came on for Sam Crain in the second inning and finished the contest, allowing five hits, two runs and a walk while striking out two.
“I was pretty excited that I was getting to get out there and pitch,” Morrison said. “I had all the confidence in the world in myself, knowing that we’re not losing in a third game. … I just got out there and did what I usually do.”
Melissa had thumped the Indians, 10-0, in tournament play back in March — but that game meant little in this setting.
“Coach Ford does a great job,” Russell said. “They do a lot of tricky stuff that we had to prepare for all week. Those kids compete and battle. We knew they had some injuries when we played them the first time, so what happened [then] has nothing to do with the team they are.”
Trailing, 3-0, early in Game 3 — after Sanger had slapped the series’ first homer in the first — Melissa scratched back a run in the top of the second. Morrison got it started with a lead-off double to right then raced to third on a wild pitch. Next up, Sean Turnage sent a deep sacrifice fly to center field, plating Morrison.
Down, 3-1, Russell called on Morrison to start the second. Morrison responded with a 1-2-3 inning.
“Sam threw some really good pitches and they hit it,” Russell said. “Brady threw some really good pitches that they hit. It’s not that Sam did a bad job. He competed. He gave us everything he had, and it just happened to be one inning today. … Brady coming out of the bull pen, we feel pretty confident with that guy. He’s a competitor. He’s been doing it for a long time.”
With one out in the Cards’ third, Tate Whittington was hit by a pitch and Bobby Houston reached when a double-play ball was dropped at second base. Womack’s single off the wall in left followed and the bases were juiced for Davis. Davis fouled off the first pitch then watched three straight balls before jacking his slam over fence. Just like that, Melissa was back — and it got better. Before the celebrating Cards had fully settled back into their dugout, Morrison sent the first pitch he saw to the same Prosper pasture and Melissa led, 6-3.
Said Davis of his blast, “I was just thinking of taking advantage of the bases loaded and driving runs in. I got lucky to hang one and hit it over. I was honestly just trying to get more RBIs to get a closer game.”
Turnage drew a walk next and, after a ground out, Segleski’s single to right brought Turnage home for the Cards’ sixth run of the inning. Trailing, 7-3, Ford pulled Sanger starter Mickey Sykes for the big hard-throwing Dayton Harkey, a pitcher coming back from injury. After walking Segovia, Harkey ended Melissa’s spree with a fly-out to right.
The Indians’ offense wasn’t done. In the bottom of the third, with one down, Griffyn Welborn answered with a two-run homer to left and Cade Hamilton followed with a single. But before Sanger could muster more, Morrison struck out the next batter looking then coaxed a fly ball to Whittington in right to end the inning.
Up, 7-5, to open the fourth, the Cards needed a boost and got it. With Houston and Womack on base via walks, a Harkey pick-off try to first found no one home and both runners scored — Houston on Harkey’s throw and Womack on a throw home. Davis then ripped a single to left and that was it for Harkey. Hollis Gleason came on with no one out and — after Brooks’ sac-fly RBI for a 10-5 Melissa lead — ended the half-inning with a double play.
Leading off the sixth, Womack’s Green Monster homer on a 1-2 pitch completed the game’s scoring.
With a chance to end the series quickly, Melissa jumped to a 2-0 first-inning lead in Saturday’s 11 a.m. opener. Sanger bounced back, though, with two runs in the bottom of the frame and neither team scored again till the sixth. That’s when the Indians pushed across the eventual game-winner on three singles — two coming back-to-back with two outs. A diving Womack, from his second base position, nearly nabbed the go-ahead RBI fly ball to shallow center but the ball just cleared his glove.
Cards starter Segleski and Sanger’s Zane Walden both settled in for a tense duel after that first inning. Segleski’s slider was on, wicked at times, and Walden’s low-velocity offerings kept the Cards waiting and often popping-up to center field. All told, Segleski scattered seven hits and struck out five while Walden allowed six hits and posted three Ks. Neither pitcher walked a single batter.
“Krisjon gave us everything he had,” Russell said. “We just didn’t have some balls fall for us. … It was a tough loss but we knew there was a chance we were going to have to play two today.”
Said Ford, “[Walden’s] got an MCL tear, he’s pitching on one-and-half legs. He was supposed to be done for the season but that’s who he is. … Our defense is always awake when he’s pitching because they know the ball is going to be put in play.”
Whittington and Womack led Cardinal batters, with Womack going 2-for-3 with a double and Whittington slapping a double in a 2-for-4 outing. Whittington led off the first and third innings with a hit, scoring on Houston’s first-inning double but getting stranded with the bases loaded in the third. Davis accounted for Melissa’s other RBI in the first with a line drive to left.
Melissa starter Andrew Cole fired a complete-game two-hitter as the Cards thwarted Sanger, 5-1. The Cards got to starter Griffyn Welborn for nine hits with Melissa RBI supplied by Isaiah Segovia (2), Whittington, Cole and Davis. Besides shutting down the Indians from the mound, Cole went 2-for-2 at the plate with an RBI and a sacrifice bunt.
“You talk about a team player,” Russell said. “That guy does everything he’s supposed to do. It’s all about the team. … Whether he’s hitting doubles or is hot as can be, he’s more than willing to put a sacrifice bunt down in a big situation.”
“Coach Russell out-coached us,” Ford said, simply. “I’m going to go back to the drawing board and we’re going to figure something out and see if I can out-coach him tomorrow. … He’s a good coach. He gets those kids to play above their grade. He’s got some talent, no doubt, but he gets a lot out of them.”
“I know they’ve got something up their sleeve,” Russell said. “I think they’re saving a [pitcher] so we’re going to have to be on our “A” game tomorrow. It’s good to win the first one but we’ve got to come out and play better tomorrow. … Overall, the most impressive thing tonight was we made some mistakes and we didn’t let that become a big inning. It’s the first time we’ve kind of squashed things.”
The Cards broke on top, 2-0, in the second with Turnage’s lead-off low-screamer over first base sparking the push. Cole followed that two-bagger with a fly-ball single to shallow right that sent Turnage home with the game’s first run. A balk call two pitches later sent Cole courtesy-runner Grayson Hurst to second and Brooks’ ensuing bunt to the left side moved Hurst to third. Then, with one out, Whittington’s ground-out to third scored Hurst.
Melissa went up, 3-0, in the third on Davis’ line-drive single off the wall in left. That shot brought home Womack who’d reached on an infield error and motored all the way to third on a bad pick-off throw at first. Welborn got the next two Cards to fly-out, but Cole followed with his second single in as many at-bats, again to right field. Cole advanced to second on the throw to third to stop Davis, but both runners were safe. Sanger ended the threat with a pop-fly out in foul territory near third base.
Sanger’s big chance to flip the script came in the fifth, when they loaded the bases with no outs. The Indians plated a run on a fielder’s choice but with one out, Cole fanned the next batter on three pitches then got the third out on a line drive to Segovia at short.
“You’ve got to bear down in big situations,” Russell said, “and that guy [Cole] has done it for a long time. We held our composure and did everything we needed to do to get some big outs right there.”
Morrison led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, deep in the hole behind third base. After Turnage walked on four pitches, Cole’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners along. Brooks then picked up another walk to load the bases, bringing Segovia to the plate. Segovia grounded to short but, after Brooks was thrown out at second, the throw to first was in the dirt and Morrison scored. The throw home was off as well as Turnage raced home with the Cards’ fifth and final fun.
Cole faced just seven batters over the last two innings, striking out four.
Segovia recorded nine outs from his post this night, with several coming on rocket throws to first. Russell said Segovia had had “a little scare” the day before and looked a bit stiff in pre-game warm-ups. “I was worried. I didn’t know what we were going to do but that guy is just a gamer, man. He bears down every time he steps on the field.”
Other Game 1 defensive gems for the Cards included Segleski’s sliding grab of a foul ball near Melissa’s third-base dugout for the series’ first out, and a put-out by catcher Brooks on a high foul behind the plate to close out the Indians’ fourth.