HS Baseball Playoffs: The Woodlands Rides Storybook Finish to Complete the Sweep of Aldine

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 05/04/2024


SPRING, TX -- A satisfying ping of the bat sent a wave of emotion over The Woodlands Highlanders (19-12-2) to signal their series sweep over the Aldine Mustangs (16-13) while advancing the team to the Area Round.

Following their 2-0 victory on Friday, the Highlanders put forward Caleb Holifield as the team’s starting pitcher, hoping to seal the series convincingly.

From his first throw, it was clear that Holifield was determined to pitch a complete, dominant game from the mound. His rapid delivery paired well with precise placement to throw off the Aldine bats.

Aldine’s best shot an early run was in the top of the first when Isaiah Nunez got aboard via an error before being advanced by a sacrifice play.

But the sturdy hand of Holifield stranded the Mustang at second, beginning a trend of limited production for Aldine against the oppressive Highlander defense.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online, Highlander Head Coach Ron Eastman praised his pitcher for controlling himself on the mound and mixing up his tendencies.

“Caleb is extremely efficient,” said Eastman. “He’s capable of getting on a roll. He pitches to contact a lot. But he also has some swing-and-miss opportunities with that breaking ball.”

With Holifield controlling the Mustangs from the mound, the Highlander batters had ample opportunities to grab a lead.

Despite their steady hitting on Friday, the Highlander struggled to get the bats going against the fresh arm of Raul Careaga. A deceptive cutting fastball played with the eyes of The Woodlands batters, and they were constantly left guessing what was coming next.

The first sign of life from the Highlander offense came in the bottom of the third inning. A lead-off walk from Chase Bradley, who was replaced at the bag by Jack Henderson, was followed by a sacrifice play that advanced the runner into scoring position.

Knowing that Henderson had wheels on the basepath, Eastman was confident when waiving home the courtesy runner from second following a shot to left field from Kyle Hubert. The well-placed hit scored a 1-0 lead for the Highlanders in the face of a stagnant offense from Aldine.

The Mustangs failed to gain traction against the 11-strikeout performance from Holifield, but enough of a stand was made for Aldine to heighten the tension.

After failing to get a runner into scoring position since the first inning, a lead-off single from Orlando Reyes situated the Mustangs with a solid opportunity to tie or take the lead. Their hopes were fulfilled when an ordinary sacrifice bunt led to a catastrophic misplay from the Highlanders.

Similar to their regular season, a collapse of fielding composure against the bunt led to a wild throw sailing over third base. Reyes’ path to home was clear, and Aldine was free to tie the game at one apiece going into the bottom of the fifth.

Coinciding with the monumental misstep from The Woodlands was a complete silencing of the Highlander batters.

Normally great batters such as Kyle Hubert, Cash Clayton, and Declan Magee were all sent to the dugout without making an impact by a revitalized Aldine defense.

“The energy was good and we shouldn't have been overconfident because the game last night was so tight,” explained Eastman. “Tip your cap to their pitcher who kept us off balance with his pitches, and the defense that didn’t make hardly any errors.”

The pressure mounted as the seventh inning promised the potential for heartbreakers to manifest with just a single swing.

Needing to keep Aldine off the bags, a combination of Holifield’s pitching and his teammate’s reliable fielding put the Mustangs down in a row.

With just one run needed to send the team to the Area Round, a confident Gian Fernandez entered the batter’s box with a chance to end the game in storybook fashion. A gratifying ping sent the ball toward the leftfield wall, and with a push from the wind, the ball careened into the Grand Oaks scoreboard for a walk-off homer to win the game 2-1 for The Woodlands.

“They finally threw him a fastball,” said Eastman. “Gian didn’t see too many fastballs, and we talked about not missing the fastballs during practice, so he didn’t miss that one and put it over the fence.”

A sorrow-filled Aldine dugout emptied to shake hands with the Bi-District Champion Woodlands Highlanders, but the challenge now turns to the Bridgeland Bears. Two regular season matchups against Bridgeland saw The Woodlands split the “series”, with the most important matchups yet to come.

“We’ve been through this quite a bit, so we’ll be prepared,” said Eastman. “We’re going to have to handle the baseball. Limit the freebies, free bases, and ride the timely hitting.”

The locations and times of The Woodlands’ games against the Bears have yet to be determined.

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