HS Baseball: District Champion War Eagles End Their Season with Sweep of Willis

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 04/26/2024


OAK RIDGE NORTH, TX -- After clinching the district title on Tuesday, the Oak Ridge War Eagles (21-7) capped off their season by completing a sweep over the Willis Wildkats (21-9) ahead of the upcoming playoffs.

The War Eagles sealed the district title by defeating the Wildkats on the road on Tuesday, marking eight straight wins to secure the top spot in the standings.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Oak Ridge Head Coach Justin Peirce spoke on the factors that gave the team enough juice to push for the number one spot in 13-6A.

“It's mainly team chemistry,” explained Peirce. “They were playing for each other instead of for themselves, and whenever you can do that, you can be pretty good.”

The selfless play that carried the team to eight consecutive wins aided them in their early at-bats against Willis.

Zero runners reached the bags in the first, but a lead-off single from Daniel Pratt in the bottom of the second kick-started the War Eagle offense.

Pratt’s single was followed by a deep-shot double to centerfield from Nate Pendland to put two runners into scoring position with none out. Pratt was thrown out on a fielder's choice on an infield grounder, but a wild pitch from Willis allowed Pendland to notch the opening run for a 1-0 Oak Ridge lead.

Willis managed to escape the bottom of the second with only the one run conceded, but their inability to respond during their at-bats meant the early lead was a daunting prospect to overcome.

The Wildkats failed to get a single runner on base for the first three innings. All of their powerful bats that propelled the team to success early in district play failed to generate the contact needed to put players on base.

Jacob Evans’ success on the mound for Oak Ridge allowed the team to build their lead when the chance came.

In the bottom of the third, a lead-off single from Gabe Carmillo set more pieces in motion for the War Eagles to increase their lead. Carmillo was advanced along the path by a sacrifice play before the Willis coaching staff decided to substitute Austin Gaskins on the mound in favor of Gage Blinka.

Blinka’s pitching tenure saw another run scored via a wild throw, followed by an RBI double from Pratt to triple the Oak Ridge lead to 3-0.

Another scoreless top inning meant the red-hot War Eagle bats skipped zero beats on their way to adding two more runs to the board. Both runs were scored on another fresh Wildkat arm, as Maddox Keo was inserted to try and stop the Oak Ridge offensive.

The challenge of facing three different pitchers was a unique one that the War Eagles hadn’t faced since the early beginnings of the season.

“It reminded me of scrimmages at the beginning of the year where you go one pitcher after the other,” said Peirce. “It’s hard for our kids to get into a rhythm, but they came out and were aggressive from the start.”

Aggressive swinging and base-running against all four of the Wildkat pitchers resulted in the War Eagles taking a 5-0 lead into the fifth inning, with time running out for Willis to make their potential comeback.

The first signs of life from the Willis offense manifested in back-to-back walks drawn by the opening batters in the top of the fifth. A wise sacrifice play pushed Keo and Kelley Abke into scoring position before the first major mistake from Evans on the mound allowed a pitch to sneak past his catcher for a two-run score.

Willis was unable to add any other runs in the fifth, but the hopes of a comeback in the final game of the season revamped the team’s mindset heading into crunch time.

For the first time since the opening inning, the Wildkat defense held Oak Ridge scoreless through their offensive half-inning. The most the War Eagles could muster was a lead-off single from Connor Cramer, but his trip along the base path was cut short by three straight outs.

Continuing their momentum from the top of the fifth, Willis immediately put a runner into scoring position when Seth Sloan was hit by a pitch and pushed to second by a single from Jaden Menjivar.

Unfortunately for the Wildkats, both runners were left stranded where they stood by a redeeming effort from Evans, who struck out the last two batters to escape the treacherous situation.

The sixth inning and top of the seventh saw both squads attempt to swing the game to their side, but neither created enough momentum to keep the game from reaching its 5-2 end.

The War Eagles went three up and down in the bottom of the sixth, and a fresh pitcher in the form of Reed Roberts put the Wildkats to bed by sitting down all three of the batters he faced. A triumphant cheer celebrated another win and the coronation of Oak Ridge as the 13-6A District Champions.

“It's been amazing,” said a relieved Coach Peirce. “We coach hard, and they practice hard, but they rose to the occasion when it mattered, and I’m super pumped for them.”

Both teams await their opponents for the upcoming playoffs, with Oak Ridge securing the district’s first seed and Willis settling into second.

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