HS Baseball Playoffs: Pitcher’s Duel Ends in War Eagles Securing Opening Game Win

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 05/09/2024


OAK RIDGE NORTH, TX -- After sweeping the Bi-District Round, the Oak Ridge War Eagles (24-7) battled through a defensive affair to claim a 2-0 win over the Klein Oak Panthers (22-13-1) in game one of the Area Round.

The War Eagles’ clean sweep of Spring in Bi-District provided some lessons for the team ahead of Area. Back-to-back shutouts may have given confidence to Oak Ridge, but the team cannot afford to get too big of heads before playing the games.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Oak Ridge Head Coach Justin Peirce spoke on the team’s mindset coming into the opening game against the Panthers.

“We have to play every series because this is the playoffs, everyone can play,” explained Peirce. “The main thing is to get some momentum and to go out and sweep like that was beneficial.”

Klein Oak’s response to the red-hot War Eagles was to send left-handed pitcher Makoy Stone to the mound. Stone’s presence and composure would be a defining trait for the Panthers throughout the defensive affair.

Neither squad was able to build or sustain momentum through the first six innings. Stone’s ability to command opposing at-bats from the mound kept Oak Ridge’s batters at bay, while Jacob Evans was able to escape multiple tough situations to keep Klein Oak in check.

Both pitchers dueled their way from inning to inning by striking batters out where they stood or relying on their fielders to make the necessary plays to get out of innings.

The first semblance of offense came in the top of the third inning for the Panthers.

A lead-off single from Austin Hardy got the team its second hit of the game. He was followed up by back-to-back singles that loaded the bases with none out. The excellent chance to secure a tie-breaking run was dashed when an outfield fly to leftfield resulted in a runner-beating throw to home from Oak Ridge’s Nate Pendland. The heated throw got a successful tag for the double-play, and Klein Oak’s scoring window slammed shut.

With their defense holding the fort, the War Eagles searched for offense to break the deadlock. Daniel Pratt was the only Oak Ridge batter to record a hit through the first five innings, with two at-bats leading to singles.

Pratt’s contributions were limited in their impact by constant fly-outs to the outfield that kept him stranded on base.

“We had to get a better approach at the plate,” said Pierce. “We had guys up there flying off, trying to pull the ball, you can’t do that with a lefty that stays out.”

Luckily for the War Eagles, continual production from the team’s fielding ensured that the Panthers could not build traction. Pole-to-pole play from the outfield was reciprocated by sure-handed play from the infield, allowing Oak Ridge to strand eight total runners on the game.

The deadlock was finally broken in the bottom of the sixth inning by timely hitting from the bottom and top of the War Eagle lineup.

Back-to-back doubles from Gabe Camarillo and Dereck Hernandez put runners into scoring position for the first time for Oak Ridge. Following a fly-out to center, a strong swing from Connor Cramer sent the ball into the outfield for a base-emptying, two-run RBI.

“Connor [Cramer] has been lights out for us,” said Pierce. “I can’t tell you how many games, it's like every time he gets out it's usually a double.”

Cramer’s timely RBI shifted the pressure onto the Panther batters, who had to keep the game alive in the top of the seventh or go home down a game.

Klein Oak rode some timely hitting of their own to load the bags, with Oak Ridge needing one out to end the game. A single, hit-by-pitch, and another single situated the Panthers with a potential knockout blow that would have forced the game into a do-or-die bottom of the seventh.

The situation became increasingly tense when Evans maxed out his pitching count. He was replaced by Pendland on the mound, forcing the left-fielder to escape the potentially momentum-swinging opportunity unscathed.

“Nate has been really good closing the whole year,” said Pierce. “He’s got like six or seven saves on the year, so he’s our guy whenever there’s a bit of pressure.”

The trust in Pendland to rescue the situation was well-placed. The dependable senior struck out the final Klein Oak batter to evade the pressure and secure a 2-0 win for Oak Ridge.

“It comes down to the grit they have,” said a pleased Pierce. “They’re gritty, they’ve been really scrappy, and that’s what makes this team so fun to coach.”

Oak Ridge will take their now 12-game winning streak into Friday’s matchup at Klein Oak, with the first pitch set for 7:00.

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