By James Harper and Alex Byington
The Cove Herald
BELTON – Belton was down 1-0 to Copperas Cove when the Tigers sent Jarrett Pickens to the plate in the fifth inning.
Pickens reached on an error in his first at-bat of the inning and then walloped a two-RBI triple in his second appearance at the plate. What happened in between the two at-bats was exactly what the Tigers has been looking for.
"This was huge because we weren't playing good ball up 'till that point," said Belton coach Eddie Cornblum.
All told, Belton scored seven runs in the inning on four hits, two walks and two Cove errors as the Tigers won 8-1 on Tuesday.
"We (just) compounded our own problems by not getting out of that inning," said Copperas Cove coach C.J. Wilk. "(Greene) pitched well and if we make some plays it's a different ball game."
The game ended with some Belton offensive fireworks but it was the two starting pitchers who controlled the game early. Bulldawgs' Austin Greene pitched four no-hit innings before the wheels came off in the fifth. Greene struck out three of the first seven batters he faced and only one runner even made it second base.
In a complete role reversal, Belton (12-10, 5-3 12-5A) pitcher Hunter Houston started off shaky but calmed down and eventually dominated the game by sitting down the final 12 Cove hitters in a row.
"It was hard to get into a rhythm because of the rain delay and once I got stretched out I felt better," Houston said. "Once we got those runs I knew I could pound the strike zone."
Cornblum had two pitchers warming up in the bullpen prior to Belton's offensive explosion, but felt that the Tigers could stick with Houston a bit longer.
"It's funny how it works out. They make some mistakes and we get excited and all of a sudden things start going your way," Cornblum said.
Even though he walked five batters in the first three innings, only Greene got to first base by way of a hit for Cove (8-13, 4-4 12-5A). His hit was the only one Houston allowed in the complete game. Cove scored its lone run on Brandon Smith's bases-loaded walk in the fifth.
"I mixed my pitches well once I settled into my groove." Houston said.
Bulldawgs edge Grey Wolves 11-8
Seeking to make its first 5A playoff appearance in 36 years, the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs understand what's going to get them there - timely hitting and maybe a little luck.
They got a little bit of both Thursday as the Bulldawgs withstood a third-inning rally for an 11-8 victory over visiting Shoemaker.
"Its all on the kids. We've continued to push them and they've bought in, and they've bought in to each other," Copperas Cove coach C.J. Wilk said.
Despite a little errant pitching and some costly defensive mistakes resulting in a five-run third inning for the scrappy Grey Wolves, Cove maintained its composure and answered right back, scraping together its third straight three-run inning on a couple of seeing-eye hits.
Tied at 8-8 after all nine Shoemaker batters came to the plate in the top of the third, momentum appeared in the Grey Wolves' corner after the Bulldawgs (8-12, 4-2 12-5A) got two quick outs in the bottom half of the frame.
But leadoff hitter Warren Neely lined a roller right between Shoemaker third baseman Roberto Ramos and shortstop John Gueits and hustled to second for a two-out double.
A passed ball put runners at first and third following a free pass to Austin Greene before Cove slugger Ty Johnson (2-for-4, 3 RBIs) ripped a hit-and-run RBI single through second and third to score Neely.
Justin Greene then followed with a check-swing single that died mere feet from home plate, but far enough for his cousin Austin, who was running on the play, to slide safely under the tag of Shoemaker catcher Xavier Wilson.
"Little dinkers," Grey Wolves coach Harry Zambrana said. "That was the frustrating thing, they put a little pressure on us and didn't really get the ball out of the infield, just balls back to the pitcher, and we just made mistakes on it."
Johnson scored on a passed ball to make it 9-6 Cove after three innings.
Shoemaker (2-13-1, 0-6) managed to keep the pressure on thanks to several errors by the Bulldawgs.
But Cove pulled it together and picked up two more runs in the bottom half of the inning when another check-single, this one from Duncan Purnell, was deposited into right field on an errant throw from Gueits to score Joel Hogan (2-for-2, 2 RBIs).