HS Baseball Playoffs: Defensive Battle Ends with Highlanders Taking Game One Versus the Mustangs

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 05/03/2024


KLEIN, TX -- After a reschedule and relocation, The Woodlands Highlanders (18-12-2) handled business against the 14-6A Champion Aldine Mustangs (16-12) by relying on their pitching and batting to guide the team to a 2-0 victory.

Rain and flash flooding forced both teams to reschedule Thursday night’s matchup into a Friday evening affair at Klein Forest High School. Despite the change of scenery, the Highlanders coaching staff prepared the players to handle the wait in preparation for a complete effort come game time.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Highlander Head Coach Ron Eastman explained how easing the team kept the boys in tip-top condition.

“Rain and the playoffs are hand-in-hand,” said Eastman. “I think our guys were loose and relaxed, but we tried to handle it like a regular week.”

The concentrated Highlanders took to the field in the top of the first and benefited from a likely antsy Mustang defense.

Lead-off batter Kyle Hubert was winged by the game’s opening pitch for an immediate runner on the bags. Then, follow-up batter Declan Magee joined him on the base path by singling to the outfield to push Hubert into scoring position.

A double play from the Aldine defense jeopardized the Highlander offensive, but a well-placed hit from Gian Fernandez brought home the opening run, putting The Woodlands in front 1-0.

Aldine’s response to the Highlander attack was minimal from start to finish. A near-perfect outing from The Woodlands’ Erich Daigle saw the trusty righty toss 10 strikeouts throughout seven innings, keeping the Mustangs constantly at bay.

Each time a Mustang batter stepped into the box a combination of Daigle’s dazzling pitching, reliable fielding, and flashy tags all managed to keep Aldine from getting a runner into scoring position through six innings.

“[Daigle] had been coming on strong the last few games, he’s been pitching very well,” said a pleased Eastman. “We had a lot of confidence in Erich that he could handle the mound in this game.”

Despite the complete effort on defense, the Highlander bats struggled to reciprocate the effort put on by the fielders.

Frequent hits from The Woodlands demonstrated the hitting capabilities of the Highlanders against the Aldine defense. Still, runners were frequently stranded in scoring position by a sudden stoppage of The Woodlands' hitting prowess.

“The quick start was great, we wanted to do that,” explained Eastman. “But then [Aldine] put together a great defensive effort, had a couple of double plays, and we should have been able to add on a couple more runs but weren’t able to due to a lack of execution.”

The lack of offensive execution lasted until the seventh inning, with Aldine needing another clutch stop to manage the 0-1 deficit.

Still wanting to extend their lead, the Highlanders’ Izzy Vega got aboard with one out in the top of the seventh. His hit was reciprocated by another single, this time from Brady Breedlove, to put runners into scoring position once again.

As reliable as ever, Magee entered the batter’s box and hoisted a hit into shallow left field. The speedy Westin Leroy was waived home by Coach Eastman at third, but a laser from Aldine outfielder Julio Gonzalez challenged the runner at the plate. A head-first slide into home plate was met with a safe call from the umpire to give The Woodlands a 2-0 lead that effectively sealed the game.

Aldine made a solid push to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, but mistakes that included a runner interference call and a tag-out on a lead runner left the Mustangs swallowing their 0-2 game-one defeat.

Meanwhile, a joyous cheer rang from the Highlander supporters in celebration of a momentum-clinching victory that posies the team for a sweep come Saturday.

“We’ll put Caleb Holifield on the mound tomorrow, and the guys don't want to see a game three,” said Eastman. “No one wants to go down to three because, in high school baseball, anything can happen in game three. So we’re going to give it our best effort in the first game tomorrow and see what happens.”

Both teams will travel to Grand Oaks for another neutral site matchup, with the opening pitch set to take place at 1:00.

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