MIDLOTHIAN — After completing seven innings of baseball in just less than two hours, the Midlothian Panthers and visiting Waxahachie Indians decided to treat those in attendance to a little free baseball.
With Chandler Miller on third base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Tyler Spain delivered the hit the Panthers have waited for all season. The senior sent an outside fastball from Indian reliever Cory Woodhouse (3-2, 2.63 ERA) the other way to right field to plate the only run of the ballgame.
The 1-0 win Tuesday night was also the first this season for the Panthers in District 10-5A. For the Indians, who entered ranked No. 8 and No. 9 in the Texashighschoolbaseball.com and Texas Association of Baseball Coaches' polls, the loss was the first in district play this season.
“It is a huge win for us because we were 0-2 in district. Waxahachie, I just have to give them a lot of credit. The [Levi] David kid threw an exceptional ballgame and they are a good club,” Midlothian head baseball coach Ray Hydes said. “Anytime we play, and I have been here 19 years, it is always a battle. It is a fun thing to be in.”
The Spain single over the head of Sage Hampton in right field was the second hit of the inning for the Panthers on a night where the two teams combined for just seven. Miller, the Midlothian left fielder, led off the inning with a double to left field where he snuck in before the on-target throw to second base from junior Joey Trevino.
Standing a combined 13 feet and one inch, Levi David (3-0. 0.76 ERA) and Russell Smith were dominant in each of their seven innings of work. Smith, a 6-foot-9 southpaw who is headed for TCU in the fall, struck out 15 Indians to just three walks with one hit allowed. The 6-foot-4 frame of Levi David kept pace with his slightly taller counterpart in what had to be, although unconfirmed, one of the tallest pitching matchups in the state. The Waxahachie senior sat down nine Panthers on strikes, issued two walks and scattered three hits.
The two combined to throw 133 of their 207 pitches for strikes.
“They got a big hit and, bottom line, and we didn’t get a big hit. We left some guys on and there were some pretty good arms going at it right there, which is pretty obvious with the hit count,” Waxahachie head baseball coach Tracy Wood said. “This district, like we have talked about every week, this district is going to be like this. This district is good. This district is tough and it is going to be a battle every week. Friday isn’t going to be any different. At all.”
The Indians have now gone to extra innings in two of their three district games this season, with a 5-0 win over Red Oak sandwiched between Tuesday in Midlothian and a 3-2 win over Summit one week ago.
Waxahachie had its chances to crack the scoreless tie with runners on base in the eighth and ninth innings and Jacob Cornell on in relief of Smith. In the top of the eighth inning, a Ryan Allen single to right field was followed by an Alex Castillo walk to put runners on first and second with one out. But back-to-back fly outs to Spain in centerfield ended the Indian threat.
Cornell finished his two innings of relief work with a pair of strikeouts and walks with the lone Allen hit allowed. His counterpart in relief, Woodhouse, struck out two and walked none but allowed the two critical ninth-inning hits.
“The whole deal was when we got Russell out of the game I felt really good about it because I thought our number two guy was going to be much better than their number two, and he was. But, they got a big hit right there and that is the epitome of baseball,” Wood said. “You just have to compete. We have some veteran kids who are going to compete and work hard and we will get back after it again tomorrow (Wednesday) at practice and go to work Friday.”
For two storied baseball programs deeply rooted in regular and postseason success, nail-biters between (13-4, 2-1) Waxahachie and (4-12-2, 1-2) Midlothian are relatively commonplace. The sub-.500 record this season for the Panthers is not and, according to Hydes, has left some Midlothian faithful scratching their heads.
“We have had a lot of success around here but this year has been a struggle and everybody is wondering what is wrong with the Panthers. You know, we knew these kids could play a little bit but they are young and that is the one thing that people don’t understand,” Hydes explained. “We lost 13 seniors last year, so, besides Russell and Spain, these kids are just learning and have a lot to live up to and I think they have been putting a little pressure on themselves. Hopefully, they learned that if they just relax and play hard that good things will happen.
“[…] There is no secret that we have been struggling at the plate. All year long we have been in games like that and haven’t found a way to win. Tonight we found a way and we are hopeful that this will kind of give us a little bit of feeling that good things are going to happen.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith