HS Baseball Playoffs: Walk-Off Single Ends Willis’ Game One Hopes Against the Cougars

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 05/17/2024


WALLER, TX -- An excruciating back-and-forth matchup came to its anticipated end, as the Tomball Cougars (32-3) snagged a 5-4 win over the Willis Wildkats (25-10) to claim game one of the Regional Quarterfinal series.

Tomball’s notoriety as a top three team in the state and top ten team in the nation has garnered much attention from their recent opponents. But not wanting to make their opponents invincible before the pitch, the Wildkats carried themselves in a fashion similar to how they had all season.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Willis Head Coach Brett Washburn explained his team’s preparation for a highly praised opponent.

“At the end of the day, we did exactly what we did all year, prepared to play the game of baseball,” said Washburn. “It doesn’t really matter the opponent or how good our highly touted they are. As long as we pitch, we hit, and we play defense, it doesn’t matter.”

With their take-care-of-business mindset, the Wildkats got to work in the top of the first inning.

The first at-bat from Mason Dutton got Willis its first runner on the basepath before a string of three straight singles from the three to five spots in the lineup allowed Dutton to run home. The immediate work from the top of the Wildkat lineup would be a key factor in the team’s success throughout the game.

Not wanting to get behind early, the Cougars put their best foot forward in the bottom of the inning to prevent the affair from becoming a runaway.

A lead-off grounder from Cade Arrambide put a runner on for Tomball. C.J. Sampson joined the opening festivities by singling himself before the two runners were both brought in via a two-run RBI double from Karson Reeder.

Reeder’s swing put the Cougars up 2-1 at the end of the explosive first innings, but Willis’ batters refused to go unmatched in their production.

No runs for either team kept the second inning silent, but Jaden Menjivar made sure the third would be different. The lead-off batter confidently swung on an outside throw and sent the ball sailing over the left-field fence for a solo home run to tie the game.

“It seemed like we were on time and ready to go,” said Washburn. “Oftentimes, this year we’ve been a one-time through the order followed by a slow start kind of team. But they were seeing it well out of the hand.”

The main issue facing the Wildkats throughout their trips to the plate was the runners left stranded on the bases. Through the first three innings, Willis left seven runners on the bags when they could have been brought home to secure an early lead. The frequency of stuck runners meant Tomball managed a tie on their part while having chances in the bottom of innings to reclaim the lead.

“We had guys in scoring position almost every inning that we couldn’t bring in,” said Washburn. “Us leaving those guys there left a lot of momentum on the table.”

Reeder reentered the batter’s box to lead off the bottom of the fourth, and with his bat still hot, he sent an incoming Austin Gaskins pitch over the fence for a 3-2 Cougar lead. Luckily for Willis, Gaskins and the infield handled the next three Cougars to escape the inning having given up one run.

The relatively clean pitching from Gaskins was beginning to waiver a tad, with his team needing everything out of him to keep the squad within reach.

“[Gaskins] has competed all year,” said Washburn. “He’s gone for multiple complete games, gone the distance multiple times, and he competes with every one of his pitches. We just need to make some more plays behind him defensively.

With Willis’ cracks beginning to show, Tomball aimed to make the knock-out blow in the bottom of the fifth.

A three-up and-down sequence for the Wildkats fueled positive momentum in Tomball’s direction with Arrambide back up to bat. His third at-bat of the game reached first on a single, where pinch-runner Koby Fosher took over.

Savvy sacrifice plays and fast base-running from Fosher cashed in the Cougars’ fourth run of the game and gave the squad a two-run lead going into crunch time.

The hope of a Wildkat comeback rested on a lineup that had fallen mostly silent since Menjivar’s solo homer in the third. Fortunately for Willis, the back-to-back scoreless innings were about to end in the top of the sixth.

With two out and no runners on, Dutton was dinged by an incoming pitch to give Willis its first runner-on since the fourth inning. Zadin Cannon then sent a ball into the outfield, providing enough time for Dutton to sprint around the bags and slide into home for a 3-4 deficit.

Willis’ momentum did not stop though, as an intentional walk got Menjivar abroad, and a passed ball to pinch-hitter Johnny Hudson evened the game. Tomball failed to reciprocate the scoring in the bottom of the sixth, and the game entered the seventh with the teams tied at four apiece.

Despite the Cougars utilizing multiple pitchers during the sixth inning, the one they settled on, Dalton Hoffart, handled business on the mound. His infrequent deliveries played with the eyes of the Wildkats, and they never got him dialed in.

Hoffart’s effort in the top of the seventh situated Tomball with a shot to walk the game off in the bottom, and another lead-off appearance from Arrambide was exactly what the team needed.

The Cougars got two runners aboard through five at-bats while maxing out Gaskins’ pitch count. Greg Moore was given the tall task of escaping with no runs given up, but a solid swing from the previously quiet Braeden Scherzer walked the game off with an RBI single to secure a 5-4 Tomball win.

With defeat on the team’s mind, the Wildkats must refocus themselves and return to the cores that have guided the team through the gauntlet of 13-6A.

“We just need to do all three aspects of fielding, pitching, and hitting better than we did today,” explained Washburn. “Hitting and pitching were obviously there, but we needed to make a couple more plays throughout the game which would have shifted a lot. But if we can make those tomorrow, we’ll come out on top.”

Game two is set to start at Waller High School at noon, with game three taking place 30 minutes after it concludes if necessary.

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