HS Baseball: Flashy Open Leaves Enough Room for Grand Oaks to Secure Win

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 04/16/2024


CONROE, TX -- The Grand Oaks Grizzlies (21-8) rode a strong opening to victory against the hosting Conroe Tigers (12-14) to stay within the district playoff picture.

Grand Oaks’ day began with a solid top of the first inning that sent a clear message to the Tigers that their opponent was coming in hot.

With two out and none on, Conroe experienced a string of errors and mistakes that put the Grizzlies into scoring position. A hit-by-pitch and follow-up wild throw to first situated Grand Oaks runners on the corners before a wild pitch brought in Grand Oaks’ Braeden Sanches for the opening run.

Another wild throw pushed Chandler Cone from second to third before a solid swing from Marc Barnhard brought another run for a 2-0 Grand Oaks lead midway through the first inning.

Conroe’s response was muted entirely by a dazzling pitching display from Mason Kinchen. The Grand Oaks lefty struck out all three batters he faced in the bottom of the first, further emphasizing his team’s momentum.

The defensive woes continued for Conroe as the second inning got underway. A lead-off walk for Davin Luck got a Grand Oaks runner on for free before a sacrifice single advanced him into scoring position.

A resounding ping from the bat signaled a right-field drive from Parker Blackman that brought Luck home and situated Blackman at third. He was left stranded due to back-to-back outs, but another silent reply from the Tigers kept the red-hot bats coming up with chances to extend the lead.

An infield error in the top of the third was another miscue from Conroe that put a Grand Oaks runner on base without cost. Two more singles, including an RBI, extended the lead to 4-0 with the Tigers still searching for a meaningful response.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Grand Oaks Head Coach Lou Ferrell explained the importance of his team taking an early lead to help their dominating pitcher.

“It was absolutely huge for us to jump out early, especially with Mason [Kinchen] on the mound,” said Ferrell. “The guy wants the ball, and he’s been really good when he’s had confidence.”

Kinchen’s shutout continued without challenge from the Tigers through the first five innings. Conroe failed to get a runner past first base during the dominant stretch. Each time the Conroe bats entered the box, Kinchen dealt with them with some innings only needing three pitches to handle business.

“He had a couple of innings where it was a really short pitch count,” said Ferrell. “We thought that we could keep his pitch count down to the point where he would be able to finish out the game.”

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the bats that gave the team a sizable cushion fell silent for the rest of the night. Multiple pitching changes for Conroe meant the Grand Oaks batters faced different throws, styles, and timing when they stepped to the plate.

It fell on the shoulders of Kinchen and the Grizzly fielders to keep the shutout alive, and their biggest test came in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Chris Kelly got aboard with one out and, after a second out, was advanced on a walk from Dominic Salas to become the first Conroe runner in scoring position for the night. The pair were joined by Jackson Todd when a pitch hit him to load the bases and bring the tying run up to bat.

With the pressure at a breaking point, Kinchen and the Grand Oaks outfield got the back-breaking out on an outfield fly to strand all three Conroe runners.

The Grizzlies failed to add to their lead in the top of the seventh, but even with two runners on against them, a clean-up job from Grand Oaks’ defense secured the 4-0 shutout win against the Tigers.

Grand Oaks’ win keeps the team inside the ultra-contested playoff picture of 13-6A. The College Park Cavaliers, Woodlands Highlanders, Conroe Tigers, and Grizzlies are all in a tight-knit race for the last two spots in the district standings, and a win this late provides confidence for the Grizzlies.

“We get a little of a break and the guys can enjoy it without any stress,” said Ferrell. “Then we have to come back next week and play two huge ones against Cleveland, hopefully we can take care of business.”

The Grizzlies will end their season with a two-game series against the Indians starting Tuesday the 23rd, while Conroe’s hopes hang in the balance as they face the same Cleveland squad on Friday the 19th.

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