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Freshman Shuts Down Pirate Attack

Jake Clark with a pick-off attempt earlier in the season.

Jake Clark with a pick-off attempt earlier in the season.

Paris Wildcats head baseball coach Bill Sikes went into the weekend’s playoff series vs. Crandall in search of a reliable No. 2 pitcher.  Instead, he may have discovered a potential No. 1, and he’s just a freshman.

Clinging to the brink of elimination in Game 2 of the best-of-3, bi-district series, Sikes turned to his nephew Phillip Sikes in the sixth inning of a tie game to quiet the booming bats of the 18th-ranked Pirates.

He did, which allowed the Cats to score the winning run of a 7-6 decision in an 8th extra inning on a walk-off error.  That tied the series, 1-1, and forced a decisive third game at Royse City High School.

After a 30-minute rest, play resumed with Sikes on the mound.  His mixture of sweeping curves and sneaky fastballs had the Pirates off-stride while the Cat offense pounded four Pirate pitchers for 15 hits to produce an unexpected 14-0, run-rule rout.

“Phillip was outstanding,” a jubilant coach Sikes said afterwards.  “We had planned to start him in the third game but had to bring him in early.  He was throwing so effortlessly that we sent him back out for the third game.”

How about this for effort: His totals for the day read 7⅔ innings pitched, 0 runs, 2 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.  He picked up both pitching wins to raise his record to 4-3 for the year.

More importantly, he enabled Paris (17-13-1) to win the series, 2-1, and advance to the area round vs. Tyler Chapel Hill.  Details of that matchup will be announced shortly.

Saturday’s doubleheader sweep was a stunning reversal of fortune after the 18th-ranked Pirates easily took Friday’s Game 1 at Royse City, 12-3.  Crandall, the District 14-3A champion, jumped to an early lead in that game and was able to rest starting pitcher Mitchell Williams after four dominant innings on the mound.  It seemed to suggest that Williams would be available for pitching duty on Saturday, but that was not the case.

Both teams sent their senior aces to the mound for Game 2 on a warm, cloudless afternoon.  Both aces failed to make it to the finish.  Crandall’s Tyler Merriman had control issues, hitting 4 batters and walking 4 while surrendering 7 hits and 6 runs.  Jake Clark, pitching on a short 4 days’ rest after winning Monday’s play-in game over Atlanta, was rocked for 11 hits.

Merriman was replaced by Thomas Lunsford, who pitched in mop-up relief of Williams in Friday’s series opener.  Lunsford was working on his sixth inning of series relief pitching in the eighth inning when the Cats’ Nos. 7-8-9 hitters loaded the bases with no outs.  Paris had failed to score additional runs in the fifth inning of a 6-2 game under the same circumstances (bases loaded, no outs) when Lunsford was brought in to put out the fire.

It looked like it might be deja vu for Paris in the eighth.  A drawn-in Crandall infield twice choked off the winning run at the plate on groundouts, but the Pirates couldn’t get the third out when Clark’s bouncer up the middle was bobbled by shortstop Kevin Pruitt, allowing Reavis to score the game-winner to tie the series.

Sikes went back to the mound to start Game 3, but before he threw his first pitch Paris already had a 6-0 lead.  As the leadoff hitter for the designated visitors, Sikes ripped the first pitch by diminutive junior Hunter Darst into leftfield for a single.  The Cats used an aggressive approach at the plate to extract 5 hits and 3 walks off Darst, who didn’t survive the first.  Paris sent 11 batters to the plate and took control of Game 3 from the onset.

Crandall seemed stunned and began making physical and mental mistakes which allowed Paris to score in every inning.  The Cats pounded out 15 hits in the game with the first three hitters (Sikes, Conor Henry, Clark) getting 3 apiece.  Drew Helberg and Jack Kraft each collected a pair of hits.

Jordan Williams and Jon Nichols topped the Game 2 stat sheet with 2 hits each.

Ironically the series mirrored the results of the 2012 quarterfinals between the two schools with the roles reversed.  Paris won Game 1 of that set and seemed on the way to a Game 2 win and series sweep when Crandall turned the tide.  The Pirates used senior Ryan Long, who now plays at Texas Tech, to close out Game 2 and get the pitching win.  Long returned to pitch a complete game victory in Game 3.

Scoring summary:

Game 2: Paris 7, Crandall 6 (8 innings)

  • Paris 3rd.  Wildness costs Crandall starter Tyler Merriman as Sikes works a 1-out walk, and Conor Henry is hit by a pitch.  With 2 outs, Jordan Williams has to hop over an errant Merriman pitch, then gets back in the box and sends the next delivery to the leftfield wall for an RBI double.  Drew Helberg also doubles to left-centerfield on a full count to drive in a pair.  Paris 3, Crandall 0.
  • Crandall 5th.  The Pirates draw a leadoff walk.  After a Paris infield error and a groundout, Mitchell Williams drives in two runs with a single to the opposite field.  Crandall 2, Paris 3.
  • Paris 5th.  The Cats respond courtesy of more wildness by Merriman, who starts the frame by plunking Henry in the back then walking Clark on 4 pitches.  Williams singles past third base to load the bases with no outs.  Helberg draws a full-count walk to force in a run, and Jack Kraft is brushed by a pitch on the sleeve that brings in another run.  When Philip Nance is also hit by a pitch for another force-in, Merriman is pulled in favor of reliever Thomas Lunsford, making his second appearance of the series.  Lunsford puts out the fire when he gets a strikeout on a high pitch and a comebacker to the mound to start an inning-ending double play.  Paris 6, Crandall 2.
  • Crandall 6th.  The Pirate bats come to live with a fury.  They pound Clark for 5 hits, and the Cats chip in a couple of errors to tie the game and force Clark to switch positions with shortstop Sikes.  With runners at second and third and 1 out, the dangerous Mitchell Williams is intentionally walked to load the bases.  Sikes works a full count on cleanup hitter Collin Chaney, then gets him to swing through a third strike curve ball.  Sikes then blows away the speedy Nate Banks on a fastball to leave the bases loaded.  Crandall 6, Paris 6.
  • Paris 8th.  The Cats finally break through on Lunsford, now working on his sixth inning of relief work over two days, when Nance takes Lunsford’s first offering to the leftfield corner for a leadoff double.  He moves to third on Jon Nichols‘ bunt, and Casey Reavis draws a 4-pitch walk to load the bases with no outs.  With the Pirate infield drawn in, Crandall gets two outs at home on back-to-back grounders.  That brings Clark to the plate and his bouncer up the middle is bobbled by the shortstop, allowing Reavis to score the winning run.  Paris 7, Crandall 6.

Game 3: Paris 14, Crandall 0 (5 innings)

  • Paris 1st.  The Pirates send Hunter Darst to the mound, and the Cats greet him with some aggresive hitting.  Sikes singles to left on the first pitch of the game, and Henry singles up the middle, sending Sikes to third.  Clark hits into a fielder’s choice to drive in the first run.  After Williams walks, Helberg singles to the opposite field to score Clark.  Kraft loads the bases on an infield single.  Nance lofts the first pitch he sees over the rightfielder’s head to drive in Williams and Helberg.  Kraft scores on a passed ball.  Nichols and Sikes both walk to reload the bases with still just 1 out.  Darst then switches positions with shortstop Kevin Pruitt.  Henry greets Pruitt with a hot shot single by third base that seems to score 2 runs, but pinch runner Graham Weatherford is thrown out at third trying to advance an extra base before the second run can be counted.  The scoreboard shows the second run for two innings but is ultimately corrected.  Paris 6, Crandall 0.
  • Paris 2nd.  Clark leads off with a single and comes home on Kraft’s 2-out double down the first base line.  Paris 7, Crandall 0.
  • Paris 3rd.  Sikes starts a 2-out rally with a triple.  Henry is awarded first base on a catcher’s interference.  Clark singles to right to score Sikes and gets an extra base with the outfielder bobbles the ball.  Henry scores on a wild pitch.  Paris 9, Crandall 0.
  • Paris 4th.  Helberg leads off with a triple to left-centerfield and scores on Kraft’s RBI grounder.  With 2 outs, Nichols walks and Reavis doubles down the first base line.  Sikes drive in Nichols with a single to left, and Henry reaches out to stroke a single and drive home Reavis.  Clark drives in pinch runner Weatherford with a single to right.  Paris 13, Crandall 0.
  • Paris 5th.  Two more Pirates see mound duty, but the Cats add a final run on a pair of walks and an error.  Paris 14, Crandall 0.
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