BELTON — As the final out landed in the glove of centerfielder Caden Eary, Salado ace Casey Frazier looked to his catcher Cole Haag and waited for the embrace.
The second-ranked Eagles were headed back to state — an end result that seemed almost assured before Frazier ever took the mound Friday night.
“There’s nothing like it, to be one of the top four teams in the state — it hasn’t sunk in all the way, but I know it will — it feels great,” said Frazier (11-0), who improved to 23-1 all-time for the Eagles.
Frazier struck out 10 and started off a seven-run top of the first in Game 3 with a two-RBI double as Salado punched their ticket to the Class 2A state tournament with a 11-0 five-inning run-rule victory over rival Troy in the Region III final at UMHB’s Red Murff Field.
“There’s something about these guys, I knew we’d score right off the bat,” said Salado head coach Chad Krempin said.
It’s Salado’s (34-6-1) first trip back to Dell Diamond in Round Rock, the site of the 2A tournament, since winning it all in 2008.
“It feels great, I know we have something special, we’ve worked hard all season and we deserve it,” said Frazier, who allowed just four hits over five innings — two in the fifth inning alone. “We deserve it.”
To do it, though, the Eagles needed to grind out an afternoon doubleheader against the Trojans (28-11-2), which won Game 2, 7-5, behind the pitching of lefty ace Jon Malmin.
But everything turned around once Frazier got his turn on the mound.
After falling apart in the first inning of Game 2, allowing Troy to score three runs without recording a hit, the Eagles returned the favor with seven runs on just four hits in the top of the first, taking advantage of five walks and a hit-by-pitch.
Eagles senior Trey Mohler led off the game with a single to left, Jon Franz walked on four pitches and Haag reached on a bunt single to load the bases with no outs.
After a force out of Mohler at home on a fielder’s choice from Marshall Mann, Frazier ripped a 2-0 fastball down the left-field line to plate Franz and courtesy runner Jake Bloomer for an early 2-0 lead.
“Emotions are high … coming into (Game 3) we knew it was do-or-die and going back to our motto of ‘grind mode’ I think we did a good job of that,” Eagles senior Jon Franz said. “We know Frazier is on the mound, everybody has that confidence that he’s going to get the job done.”
Davis Little worked a full-count walk to load the bases again for designated hitter Coby Giniewicz to bloop a two-run single into shallow left-center and score Mann and courtesy runner Keaton Mims. Then, after starter Zach Epperson was pulled, Troy reliever Payton Stanford issued two bases-loaded walks and gave way to a third pitcher, Matt Ellis, who hit Franz in the back for a third straight run.
And with a 7-0 cushion before he toed the rubber, Frazier was electric, striking out eight of the first 11 Trojans — including three in both the first and third innings.
“I probably say this a lot, but it was one of those nights where everything was on — you have location, you’ve got good velocity and everything is just on,” Frazier said.
“As a pitcher, if you get one or two in the top, that feels good, but when you get seven, you just got to go out there and work.”
Malmin, a University of Texas-signee, was just effective enough in Game 2, scattering five hits over 5 1/3 innings while the Trojans rocked Salado for seven runs over the first three innings to force Game 3.
Salado pitchers Drew Van Winkle and freshman Chase Basham held Troy in check, scattering one hit over the final 4 1/3 innings as the Eagles offense tried to fight back with a three-run sixth inning.
“For a freshman to come in and pitch like that, he has ice water in his veins,” Krempin said.
Trailing 7-2 through five, Salado junior Davis Little got things going in the top of the sixth against Troy reliever Nathan Schleede, who replaced Malmin after he walked Basham to load the bases with one out. Davis plated Mohler and Mann when Troy third baseman Zeb Criswell couldn’t handle a soft grounder and then skipped a throw to first with the bases loaded. Basham, at third, then scored on a sacrifice grounder by Giniewicz to make it 7-5 before senior Reagan Bazar grounded to second to end the threat. Salado stranded 13 base runners in Game 2, including 10 combined in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings.