No. 9 West pitches Tigers out of playoffs
A sterling West pitching staff took the bats out of Rockdale hitter’s hands in an impressive 5-0, 7-2 series sweep in Class 3A, Region III bi-district action.
The Tigers end the year at 16-13, while No. 9 West (24-7) moves on to take on Carthage (21-7).
West limited Rockdale to a single hit—a dribbler up the middle by Derek Whitsel in the second inning of the second game.
Tiger batters struck out 17 times in the two-game series.
“It’s hard to win when you don’t get guys on base,” said Ronnie Jonse, who led the Tigers to the playoffs in his first year as a head coach. “We struck out and popped up too many times in the series to give ourselves a chance to win.”
He was one walk away from a perferct game.
The Trojans then turned to staff ace Nick Kucera (8-0, 1.00 ERA) and the big 6-foot-3 righthander, who is nicknamed “Eygore” by his teammates, kept the Tigers off balance with a heavy dose of heat.
“In the second game of the series I felt like our defense let us down and we made some crucial mistakes that gave West some momentum.”
Kucera made sure he had a lead to work with, slamming a towering two-run home run in the fourth inning to push the Trojans ahead 4-0 at Tiger Field.
Tyler Pustevosky added a solo shot in the fifth to make it 5-0.
After his lonely single in the second, Whitsel was erased at second base.
In the first game, Willenborg walked Preston Ehler in the fourth inning to ruin his perfect game.
Pearce Loth made his second start of the season after returning from knee surgery, allowing just five hits, including a two-run home run to Tristan Gonzales, the second batter of the game.
“West is a really good team, they played good baseball Thursday and Friday and we didn’t.
A year after missing the playoffs, Rockdale was eager to get back in the playoff fold.
“I was very pleased with how the season went,” Jonse said, “the kids faced adversity early on knowing that Pearce Loth who was considered the number one pitcher entering the season, probably wasn’t going to return from his ACL injury. Gibbs, Whitsel and Offield all stepped up to fill the void and gave us a solid pitching rotation once we entered district.”
The Tigers were forced to deal with a district that housed College Station—the No. 1 team in the state— and Caldwell, which was also a top 10 team all season, and still finished third.
Four of the Tigers’ five league losses were by a single run.
“We were predicted by a couple of media outlets to finish fourth in district behind College Station, Caldwell and Taylor,” Jonse said. “As a team early on we honestly thought that we could compete with every team in our district.
“The immediate future is looking very bright for the Rockdale Tigers baseball program.”
The Tigers lose two important cogs to graduation in Gibbs and Austin Caffey.
Gibbs led the Tigers with a .427 batting average, 30 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
He leaves as the school’s all-time leader in base stealing with 69.
Caffey—a second-team All-State selection last season— caught 119 games and 746 consecutive innings in his four-year career.
He has not made an error in two years.
He graduates with 40 stolen bases, 50 runs batted in and a .366 average.
“Clayton and Austin will be missed greatly next year,” Jonse said. “Both were four year starters and bring a great attitude and effort everyday. It will be hard to replace those two, but we also have eight starters coming back which we are excited about.”
West 7, Rockdale 2 West 001 312 0—7 7 5 Rockdale 000 020 0—2 1 2
Mattlege and Kucera, Macik (6); Caffey and Whitsel, Gibbs (4). W-Kucera (8-0). L-Whitsel (5-3). 2B-Kucera. HR-Kucera, Pustevosky. Records—Rockdale 16-13, West 24-7.
West 5, Rockdale 0 Rockdale 000 000 0—0 0 3 West 201 011 X—5 6 0
Caffey and Loth; Mattlege and Willenborg. W-Willenborg (7-0). L-Loth (0-1). 2B-Pustevosky 2, Paxton. HR-Gonzales (3).