By Evan Mohl
WACO – After a second consecutive playoff appearance – a Copperas Cove first – the Bulldawg baseball team still remains winless in the playoffs.
In a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat playoff series full of ups-and-downs, Cove battled Midlothian to the brink of victories in both bi-district contests, but ultimately fell short. The Panthers took both games by a combined total of three runs to secure their spot in the area round.
"They (Cove) can and should hold their heads high," Panthers coach Ray Hydes said, breathing a little easier after the outcome. "They played us as well as anybody."
In each game, Midlothian had to fend off furious rallies by Cove in the seventh and final inning. Game 1 actually went into extra innings before the Panthers scored two in the top of the eighth for a 7-5 victory. Game 2 ended with Cove leaving bases loaded in the top of 7th as the Bulldawg fell 3-2.
The Bulldawgs (15-14) finished the season over .500 for the first time in school history and unofficially set a record with wins.
"We had a great season," Cove coach Brian Jost said. "I wish we would have won."
Five seniors who helped guide Cove into new territory will be leaving the team this spring. They include: John Smart, John Ropple, Daniel Garrett, Donel Morrison and Daniel Cabral.
Game 1: Panthers 7, Dawgs 5 (8 innings)
Copperas Cove managed to overcome a three-run deficit with an exhilarating rally in the bottom of the seventh, only to see Midlothian put together a rally of its own.
The Panthers scored two in the top of the eighth, and although the Bulldawgs got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the inning, Cove couldn't put together one last rally.
The Panthers scored once in the first inning on an error, and then added two runs in the second – one on an error and the other on an RBI-double by Taylor Goss. Chase Watts smacked a home run to left in the third that stayed just inside the left-field foul pole to give Midlothian a 4-0 lead by the middle of the third inning.
The Bulldawgs came right back in their half of the third to cut the lead in half. John Smart plated Matt Garrett (single) and John Kasten (a beautiful bunt single that landed between the pitcher and second baseman) with an RBI-single to left.
Then, the scoring ended until the seventh.
After the Panthers added what seemed like an insurance run, Cove broke out the bats and caught a couple of breaks. Chris Miller and Garrett led off with singles. The Panthers then inserted closer Aaron Sims, but that didn't seem to bother Josh Kasten, who knocked in Miller with a base hit. Garrett scored when Daniel Cabral reached on a two-base throwing error and Kasten came home on a wild pitch to tie the game.
In the eighth, the Panthers got a little lucky. After starter John Ropple retired the first batter of the inning, Justin Ray came to the plate and fouled a ball back on what looked like an innocuous play. The home-plate umpire, however, called catcher's interference and Ray was awarded first base.
Ropple did get the second out, but Goss came through again with an RBI rip to left. Goss scored the game's final run when he scampered around the bases on two Cove errors.
Ropple pitched the entire game for Cove. He didn't have his best stuff, but kept the Panthers off balance with his offspeed repertoire. Ropple allowed 10 hits and five walks while striking out 12. Five of the seven Midlothian runs were earned.
Game 2: Panthers 3, Dawgs 2 – Trailing 3-1 in the top of the seventh, Miller led off with a single and scored on Daniel Garrett's RBI bloop-double down the left-field line. Hydes then replaced starter Preston Thigpen with sophomore reliever Sterling Gravens, but Josh Kasten greeted him with a bunt single. After a strikeout, Cody Brannon walked to load the bases, but the Bulldawgs couldn't get one more across to at least force a tie.
Gravens got John Smart to strike out and Matthew Garrett to pop out. It was the second game in a row, Cove had the bases loaded with less than two outs in the seventh inning.
Thigpen picked up the win. He gave up six hits and two walks over seven plus innings of work. The senior ace also struck out six Bulldawg batters.
The Bulldawgs were the first to make lines in the run column. In the top of the second, DuJuan Prater singled on a soft liner to left and came home on a Daniel Garrett RBI seeing-eye single. Garrett got behind 0-2 and then battled back with an opposite-field poke that found a hole in the right side of the infield that gave Cove their first lead of the series.
Cove starter Donel Morisson battled throughout the game even though he struggled with his command (six walks). The senior kept Midlothian off the scoreboard until the fourth inning with two effective curveballs that had Panther hitters buckling their knees on multiple occasions. One breaking ball broke from top-to-bottom while the other moved from side-to-side.
Morrison tossed a complete game and worked out of several jams, including a bases-loaded fix in the bottom of the second with no outs. The Bulldawgs' No. 2 starter finished with six strikeouts, three earned runs and six hits allowed.
Unfortunately for Morrison and Cove, Chase Edwards, the Panthers No. 9 hitters, was a force to be reckoned with. After Blake Webster worked a two-out walk and Rick Stover singled, Edwards plated them both with a double down the left-field line in the fourth inning to give Midlothian their first and final lead.
Edwards wreaked havoc again in the sixth when he walked, stole a base and scored on Goss' single. It was Goss' second straight game-winning RBI.
Edwards finished the series 4-for-5 with two walks, three singles, a double, two RBIs and two runs scored.
Contact Evan Mohl at email@example.com or (254) 501-7564.