Behind another solid pitching performance from Paxton Jordan and an unlikely home run from nine hole hitter Tyler Miller, Thorndale will be making its fifth appearance at the state tournament in six years after dispensing of No. 7 LaPryor 8-2 in the Region IV finals at Burbank Stadium Friday night at the San Antonio Sports Complex.
The 24-11 Bulldogs will face 29-5 Evadale in one of two state semifinals Wednesday, June 9 at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock at 1 p.m. No. 3 Windthorst (34-6)—which knocked the Bulldogs out in the semifinals last year—will take on Stamford (238) in the first semifinal of the day at 10 a.m.
The Bulldogs will be attempting to capture Thorndale’s eighth team state championship and third in baseball (1996, 2005).
Evadale, ranked No. 9 in the state, is a veteran ball club, very similar to Thorndale, with seven starters back.
The Rebels have knocked off the No. 1 (Overton) and No. 2 (Cayuga) ranked teams on their march to Dell Diamond.
“They can hit the ball,” said Thorndale Coach Kelly Kuhl, who scouted Evadale Saturday. “Their No. 2 pitcher reminds me of our No. 2 pitcher (Caleb Saunders). They are very similar to us.”
The Rebels stood in the way of history over the weekend as their victory over Cayuga prevented the Wildcats from grabbing their third state championship in the school year, having already won titles in football and basketball.
The Rebels are led by junior first baseman Tyler Tucker who is hitting .449 with six home runs and 46 runs batted in. He is also 6-2 on the mound.
“Last year, we were different because we had some people that didn’t want to play more baseball,” said Tucker, who was the district MVP last season as a sophomore. “But I think after we got to the fourth round and lost, we were disappointed. That made everyone say that we wanted to work hard and go to state.”
Thorndale opened the scoring in the LaPryor game by scoring three runs in the top of the fourth with the help of a two run double by Caleb Saunders.
LaPryor then answered back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. The tying run was at third base with one out, but Thorndale’s defense held strong behind the arm of ace Paxton Jordan.
Jordan struck out the next two LaPryor batters to line out to short stop and strike out looking to end the inning and threat.
Jordan would strike out just five batters on the night, but one was huge in the bottom of the fifth.
LaPryor’s Emilio Salazar would open the inning with a double to left field and then stole third base.
With the tying run that close, Jordan would strike out Andrew Naraja looking on a full count pitch and get Israel Medina to fly to left field to close out the inning.
LaPryor made three pitching changes on the night. The big 6-3 ace Joe Guzman started the game, but gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings before being moved to third base and was replaced by Mike Martinez.
Martinez walked two batters and was immediately replaced by Cy Salazar. Salazar hit a batter and walked another to open up the seventh inning and Guzman was put back at pitcher.
By this time Thorndale had mounted a 6-2 lead. Guzman struck out five and walked six during his time on the mound.
In the mean time, the junkballing Jordan (9-2) cruised with his off speed offerings.
Miller, hitting in the ninth spot, shot a solo home run over the left field fence in the top of the sixth that pushed the Bulldogs over the top.
“He does hit with some power,” Kuhl said, “that’s his fourth home run of the year. That’s what we want out of the ninth hitter. We feel good about having him there.”
Josh Ware and pinch runner Sam Richter would also score in the Thorndale sixth on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly, respectively.
LaPryor would manage one base runner in the bottom of the seventh with one out, but Jordan would get Elias Rios and Naraja to fly out.
LaPr yor ends its season at 24-7.
“I would say that we have gotten stronger,” Kuhl said. “We didn’t play that well in the first playoff game against Shiner— nerves or whatever—but the way we have been going, it’s getting better every week.”
TOURNEY NOTES— In six previous appearances, Windthorst has yet to win a title... Stamford, which is located north of Abilene, is making its first appearance...Stamford is the only non-district champion to make it to state. It was runnerup to Hamlin in 8A...Tyler Jordan and Weston Fisher were on the roster four years ago as freshmen in Kuhl’s first team at state.
Region IV Finals
Thorndale 8, LaPryor 2 Thorndale 000 303 2—8 6 4 LaPryor 000 200 0—2 5 3
Jordan and Jordan; Rios and Guzman, Martinez (3), Salazar (3), Guzman (7). W-Jordan 9-2. L-Guzman (13-3). 2B-Jordan, P., Saunders (T), Medina, Salazar (L). HR-Miller (4) (T). Records—Thorndale 24-11, LaPryor 24-7.