The Wildcats continued to defy the odds with a 6-5 win Saturday over Killeen Ellison at Wildcat Field for a two-game sweep of the area round playoff series.
The Cats avoided the third game by pulling off the improbable. Freshman Michael Ketchmark had the game-winning hit, a walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh.
LH tied the score in the sixth on a home run by senior Ryan Browder, his first homer of the season.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” LH coach Jay Higgins said, in the understatement of the day.
Browder, who also picked up the win in relief, said he was just looking to make contact when he sent a line-drive shot over the left field fence.
After posting a 3-0 lead in the first inning, the Wildcats either trailed or were tied in the final three innings but never lost confidence.
“I think we were ready,” Browder said. “We’ve been preparing for this a long time.”
LH will face the winner of the Berkner-Belton series in next week’s third round of the playoffs. Berkner swept the Wildcats in both District 9-5A meetings.
It looked like LH would have an easy sweep after sending eight batters to the plate in the bottom of the first. Ketchmark picked up the first of his two RBIs with a sacrifice fly, scoring David Bloodworth. Taylor Stell knocked in Byron Burns with another sacrifice fly, then Judson Luther doubled in another run for a 3-0 lead.
LH went down in order over the next three innings, while Ellison picked up two runs in the third and another pair of runs in the top of the fifth for a 4-3 lead. Tim Davis relieved starter Dylan Porter with one out in the fifth and got the Cats out of a jam, then Browder pitched the last two innings.
The Cats took advantage of a leadoff walk by Bloodworth in the bottom of the fifth. Bloodworth advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches and was singled home by Blake Woodson.
Ellison also got the leadoff man on to start the sixth and he wound up scoring on a balk for a 5-4 lead.
Browder’s two-out homer in the bottom of the sixth knotted the score at 5-5. Ellison opened the seventh with a pair of groundball outs, then Stell tracked down a deep fly ball in center field for the third out. Ironically, it was Stell who collided with normal starting center fielder Cameron Bodell on Thursday night in Killeen. Bodell was held out of Saturday’s game with a Grade 3 concussion.
Bloodworth, who scored all three times he reached base, was again the sparkplug with a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh. Byron Burns drew a walk, but Ellison was able to induce a pop-up for the power-hitting Woodson.
That set the stage for Ketchmark, who despite his youth has had several clutch hits this season.
“He’s been doing that all year for us,” Higgins said. “He’s a freshman who plays like a senior.”
Ketchmark hit a smash into centerfield and Bloodworth raced home from second with the game-winning run.
“I was looking for a fastball,” Ketchmark said. “I knew he [Ellison pitcher Cal Somerville] was going to try to get ahead of me, and I just swung.”
Ketchmark was 3-for-3 with three RBIs in Game 1 of the series, an 11-8 LH victory Thursday in Killeen. But he had flied out in his first three at-bats Saturday before providing the walk-off double.
“I’m just glad we weren’t down a run that last inning,” Ketchmark said. “Browder hitting that home run was big.”
Big also describes what LH is accomplishing in these playoffs. The Wildcats had to scramble just to make the playoffs out of 9-5A, which is one of the more overlooked districts when it comes to baseball. No one is overlooking Lake Highlands now.
“I think we are surprising a lot of people,” Browder said.