CELINA – The Anna Coyotes grabbed a big road win at Celina on April 16, keeping their playoff hopes alive with two district games to go. Pitcher Zach Howard shutout the Bobcats, 2-0, while spreading six hits, striking out six and walking three in his fourth-straight complete-game apprearance.
Offensively, the Coyotes got it done with three hits and aggressive, heads-up baserunning.
“They showed me heart and all that good stuff, but really, they always do,” Anna head coach Joey Hector said. “We’ve had some tough losses. And our kids don’t stop believing in the process. They don’t stop believing in each other. We’re going to be alive until somebody tells us we’re not. Exactly what we thought would happen today happened today.”
The win boosted Anna’s district mark to 3-5, one game back of 11-4A’s fourth and final playoff spot. If the Coyotes win-out over Sanger and Gainesville – and Celina loses one – Anna and Celina will meet in a play-in game for the district’s fourth-seed post-season berth.
Bobcat starter Zane Barnett struck out 12 over 6.1 innings, allowing three hits with four walks. Will Keaveney came on for the final two outs, walking one.
“That kid’s a good pitcher,” Hector said of Barnett. “He competes and he always gives us problems. His arm slot messes with us, his timing messes with us. We knew [runs] were going to be hard to come by.”
The Coyotes broke on top with a run in the second inning and added one more in the sixth as Howard kept Celina at bay.
Dylan Burr led off Anna’s second with an infield single and Josh Packard’s sacrifice bunt moved him to second. Mason Simmons followed with single to right and the Coyotes had runners at the corners with one out. Next up, Jaden Adams hit into a fielder’s choice at second and Burr raced home for a 1-0 lead. “Our first run was manufactured by two seniors [Burr and Simmons] who really haven’t been doing a whole lot lately with the bats,” Hector said. “We just have a belief in them, they’ve got a belief in us. I’m so excited about that - for them to get that first run.”
Anna held its precarious lead into the sixth frame when Hector led off with a single to left and Howard followed with a walk. Burr then sacrifice-bunted Hector to third and a walk to Packard ensued, loading the bases. Barnett struck out the next batter, which brought Adams to the plate with two down.
Then, before a 1-2 pitch to Adams, Coach Hector noticed something and leaned in toward Rawley at third base for a brief word. Barnett’s next throw was in the dirt and got past the catcher. Rawley pounced, scoring on the wild pitch. “We saw the kid grip the knuckle ball,” Hector said, “and I told Rawley, ‘The second it hits the ground, dude, you’re scoring. You take off, no matter what.’ He’s a good baserunner.”
“It’s always tough to go on the road, especially at Celina,” Rawley said. “Celina’s a good ball club. They gave us a tough time at our place. We’re road warriors. It was a Tuesday Night fight. … Zach Howard, you ask your senior go up there on that mound with experience. You expect that performance out of him. I was excited and pleased with his performance – keeping the ball down and keeping them off-balance all night. … I knew as soon as we got that second run, we were going to go win the ball game.”
Said Howard, “I knew if I threw the ball over the plate, my defense was going to make plays like they do every game. I have real faith in those guys. We had some big plays – Jaden Adams made a diving catch. And [Jaden] Torres, he hadn’t played a lot at first base, but he stepped up and played big over there tonight.”
As for his fourth-straight complete game, Howard noted the competition between himself and Rawley. “We had an inter-squad [game] a couple of weeks ago. I got to pitch against him. … He throws a complete game so I’ve got to go try and show him up and be better than him. Then he goes out there and throws another one last Friday. So I told him on the bus, ‘I’m going to go out there and throw another one today.’ It’s helping our ball club out a lot.”
Coach Hector welcomed one of his former players to the Coyotes’ dugout for this one: Luke Turner, who played for Hector at Gilmer before graduating in 2012 and going on to play football and baseball at Rice University. “You talk about an incredible person,” Hector said, “there’s not a better kid in this world than Luke Turner. I can promise you that.”
And not a bad good luck charm either? “If I’ve got to, I’ll get him on the staff,” Hector joked. “I’ll get him on emergency contract. We’ll get him out there for sure.”