HS Baseball: Highlanders Sweep Series Against College Park While Keeping Playoff Hopes Alive

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 04/12/2024


THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The College Park Cavaliers (15-10) fell in their home matchup to the red-hot Woodlands Highlanders (14-10-2) in a 6-2 defeat that further shakes up the District 13-6A standings.

The Cavaliers had entered their series against the Highlanders as the second-place team in the district standings, trailing only the Willis Wildkats. Their 7-0 loss to The Woodlands on Tuesday further cemented the team’s need to avoid being swept on the week.

A harmless first inning for both squads saw an impressive start to the game for the starting pitchers. The Woodlands’ Caleb Holifield maintained a dominant presence on the mound, while College Park’s Grady Scarborough favored finesse and placement to catch opposing batters swinging.

Following their solid first inning, the first crack against the Cavaliers began to show, as Holifield nailed a ball down the right-field line to ring home courtesy runner Jack Henderson for the opening run and a 1-0 lead.

In response to their fresh deficit, College Park took to the plate hoping to draw even or take the lead. The team stacked the cards in their favor by putting two aboard with only one out, but both were left stranded via stellar fielding and composed pitching from Holifield.

A second problem manifested for the Cavaliers in the top of the third, with their pitching beginning to waiver. The previously steady arm of Scarborough started to pull his throws to the outside and forced his catcher, Luca Anzalone, to make increasingly difficult grabs.

Cash Clayton got aboard for the Highlanders early in the top of the third and made his way to third base. His chance to come home was brought on by a pitch that evaded the glove of Anzalone behind the plate, and The Woodlands found themselves up 2-0.

With the Highlanders threatening to run away with the game if they failed to respond, the Cavaliers entered the bottom of the third in need of traction they had been without.

An error for a retreating Jack Smejkal into shallow centerfield got College Park’s Evan Mann to first, with the next batter threatening to tie. On the next pitch, after Mann reached first, Aidan Collado hoisted a shot over the leftfield fence to tie the game in a single swing.

The Cavaliers could not continue scoring after the Collado homer, but a 2-2 tie promised an interesting matchup if College Park could manage the issues on their defensive end.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, the wheels completely fell off the wagon in the top of the fourth, with the Highlanders needing little effort to reclaim the lead.

A lengthy series of errors, walks, and miscues from the College Park defense left the Highlanders in a perpetual state of having runners aboard without needing hits. A sacrifice fly-out to centerfield from Erich Daigle was the closest The Woodlands came to a traditional hit-and-score situation. Still, three runs on zero hits gave the Highlanders a 5-2 reclamation of the lead.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Highlander Head Coach Ron Eastman spoke on the team’s strategy when bringing in additional runners in key situations.

“We talked about getting another and wanting to add to what we’ve got as one of our focuses in a ball game,” explained Eastman. “It was either answer back when they score or add on, and we did both of those tonight.”

After giving up the two-run homer in the third, Holifield reasserted himself as the dominant figure on the mound he was through two. For the next three innings, Holifield and his teammates put College Park through three up-and-down situations including athletic plays from the infield and a noticeable change in delivery time for Holifield.

The College Park bats were caught flat-footed by the suddenly rapid delivery from the previously patient pitcher. Their inability to respond to the change of Holifield’s pace severely limited the team’s ability to come back into the game.

“We definitely have some talent out there,” said Eastman. “The infield is one of the best we’ve ever had. So when you have a guy throwing strikes and competing like that, you’ve got a chance in every game.”

Even with the Highlanders stranding multiple runners throughout the game, their presence was enough to add pressure onto the already wavering College Park defense.

A pitching change from Scarborough moved former right-fielder Jackson Hollas in to pitch, and he handled the pressure by stranding the threatening Woodlands runners where they stood.

But without help from the Cavalier batters, Hollas was forced to pitch against the increasingly long odds.

The fairly seamless night for Hollas saw its first substantial snag when a lead-off double from Chase Bradley put a runner into immediate scoring position. Bradley was exchanged for Henderson once again, and another wild throw saw the Highlander speedster round the bags for the game-sealing sixth run.

The best College Park could muster in response was a single from Robbie Calzada, but he was left stranded by another athletic play from Smejkal at shortstop to end the game 6-2 in the Woodlands’ favor.

The Woodlands’ win pushes the team ahead of College Park in the updated 13-6A standings, but the road to the playoffs will continue to be a tight-rope act for both squads.

“This one was a monster game for both teams, and I’m glad we ended up on top,” said Eastman. “[College Park] is well coached and they play hard, so we were fortunate to come out on top of both of these games, but it was a big one as we come down the stretch.”

College Park’s hopes of salvaging a playoff spot will rest on their upcoming performance against Oak Ridge on Saturday. Meanwhile, The Woodlands gets an easier matchup against the district’s last-placed Caney Creek Panthers.

Comments •
Log In to Comment