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Once again, the Paris Wildcats baseball team finds itself back in the regional quarterfinals. That’s not unusual. The Cats have progressed to the third round of the Class 3A playoffs for 3 of the past 6 years.
Few expected it to happen this year . . . a year the Cats were the unanimous preseason pick to finish last in District 13-3A . . . a year they were expected to stow away the gear for another season following their final district game two weeks ago . . . a year when achieving a .500 season record seemed unattainable.
The Cats, now 19-13-1, needed an extra play-in game just to qualify as the district’s 4th seed. They stunned 18th-ranked Crandall in the opening round series, 2 games to 1. Now they add an equally impressive 2-0 series sweep of Tyler Chapel Hill.
In Game 1 Friday, they got pitching and power hitting from West Point signee Jake Clark to subdue the Bulldogs, 4-1. Then in Game 2 Saturday back at their new home-away-from-home Royse City, they pounded University of Houston recruit Pat Day, 11-1, in a game shortnened to 6 innings by the 10-run rule.
Day entered Saturday’s game with a 1.69 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 49⅓ innings, but the flashy stats meant little to the aggressive Cat lineup. Paris jumped on the heralded lefthander for 3 runs in the first inning and never let the foot off the accelerator. The Cats added a run in the third, 3 more in the fourth when they knocked Day off the mound, and the final 4 in the sixth off a pair of Bulldog relievers.
The beneficiary of the offensive outburst was junior Jordan Williams (1-2) who picked up his first win of the season. Williams was expected to be a mainstay of this year’s pitching staff but dreadful pre-district outings had made him persona non grata in the Wildcat rotation.
Instead of pouting, Williams worked to get better, an infectious trait which the entire team has embraced since starting district in a 0-3 hole. Williams has been impressive in bullpen practice sessions lately, and he logged a couple of nice innings in a mop-up role in last week’s Crandall series.
Paris head coach Bill Sikes played a hunch and sent Williams to the mound to face Day and the Bulldogs in Game 2. It paid off royalty. Although he had some anxious moments, Williams held Chapel Hill (20-13) to just 1 run in 6 innings of work, allowing 6 hits, 4 walks, with 3 strikeouts.
It marked the second straight series that Sikes and the Wildcats have gotten an unexpected shot in the pitching arm. Last week’s hero, freshman Phillip Sikes, picked up wins in Games 2 and 3 against the hard-hitting Pirates. This time the Cats were able to hold Sikes back for a potential Game 3 start had Williams faltered. He didn’t, and they didn’t.
WIldcat pitching has been suffocating in the playoff wins. Over the past 20⅔ innings, the Cats have held opponents to just 2 runs.
And it’s not just the improved pitching that’s made the difference. The defense has been solid, and the coaching staff is getting contributions at the plate from the entire lineup. Seven Cats logged RBI in Game 2, topped by Clark with 2 apiece. Meanwhile, utility player Sikes was the catalyst at the top of the order with a 4-for-4 day. Seniors Clark, Jack Kraft, and Jon Nichols each went 2-for-3.
Chapel Hill coach Ryan Cook came away impressed with the Cats’ showing. “That is a good baseball team,” Cook was quoted about Paris in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “They square stuff up, they found holes and run the bases right.”
So now, the little team that couldn’t will try once more to chug uphill against all the odds and break through the elusive quarterfinal barrier. To advance to the semis they’ll have to turn it up another notch against a familiar foe: Perennial state title contender Pleasant Grove Hawks (22-10). The Hawks beat Gilmer in a one-game set, 2-0, to advance.
The best-of-3 series starts Thursday at PG’s Hawk Field in a 6 p.m. start. Paris hosts Game 2 on Friday, 7:30 p.m., at Hub Hollis Field. Game 3, if needed, returns to Texarkana Texas High, site of the Cats’ play-in win over Atlanta.