BELTON — As simplistic as the message is, and for as often as players hear it, it sometimes takes a 10-run defeat to really hammer home the point.
“I’ve been saying it all week — and all year — it comes down to the fewest amount of mistakes,” Salado coach Kreece Cooper said. “And when you give a good team that many free opportunities, every single day of the week you’re going to get run-ruled.”
Well, Thursday happened to be the day of the week this time, and Salado committed seven errors, including three in Robinson’s six-run third inning, as the Rockets rolled to a 12-2 victory in six innings at Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Red Murff Field to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Class 4A Region III quarterfinal series.
“You’ve got to flush it. It happens. I just told the guys I know they didn’t mean to kick it around or drop fly balls. I know they aren’t trying to,” said Cooper, whose team lost for just the second time in the last month and had a six-game winning streak snapped. “But it’s hard to swallow when you see a team play clean baseball for probably two months it feels like, and then it snowballs.
It’s frustrating. And it’s hard to fight back when the wind is out of your sails.”
Fortunately for the Eagles (18-12) the ship isn’t fully under water. The teams resume the series at 7 tonight back at UMHB, where Salado has a chance to force a deciding third game.
“They are going to throw their big righty that throws hard and we are going to throw are big righty that throws hard, so best on best tomorrow and lose we’re done,” Cooper said, referring to today’s probable pitching matchup of Robinson’s Braxton Ashcraft and Salado’s Jacob Wilk. “We’ve been in that situation, and I don’t think they pressure up any. I know these kids and I know they’re going to flush it and come out and go to work.”
Robinson left-handed pitcher Dru Dziedzic, nearly a year after taking the loss in the Rockets 7-1 setback against Salado in the state semifinals, went five innings Thursday, allowing four hits and two runs while striking out six to pick up the win.
“He steps on the mound and we expect him to compete and give us a chance to win. Tonight was no different,” Rockets coach Bryan Kent said of Dziedzic, who, with his team up 10-2 in the fifth, stranded the bases loaded with back-to-back strikeouts.
“He was a bulldog and he threw strikes, and the guys played well behind him.”
Salado starter Drew Dobbins, who lasted 2 2/3 innings, and reliever Ryan Oakes uncharacteristically didn’t have that luxury.
Third-ranked Robinson (27-2), which has now won 20 in a row, took the lead in the opening frame and never looked back, scoring two runs on a hit, two walks and an error in the first off Dobbins. The Rockets went up 4-0 after the top of the second on three hits and a two-out error before putting the game out of reach in the third, using three walks, three errors, a hit batter, and a big three-run double by Mason Cooper.
“When it’s happening, it’s like ‘Man, I know we’re better than this,’ and I kept waiting for us to get back into it. And we didn’t tonight,” Salado catcher Cullen McKinney said. “We just didn’t do what we do.”
Cooper finished 2-for-4, Jake Strain was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs, and Jace Walker went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs for Robinson, which totaled eight hits.
The Rockets tacked on a run in the fifth and two in the sixth. The Eagles had an error in each inning.
Salado cut into Robinson’s early four-run lead with two runs in the second courtesy of McKinney’s RBI single and a run-scoring double from Kade Maedgen, who had two of the Eagles’ five hits.
It wasn’t nearly enough. Dziedzic yielded to Parker Shelley in the sixth, who struck out a pair to close it out.
“That’s not a typical Salado performance, but what good teams do is take advantage of opportunities, and we took advantage of some opportunities and some mistakes that they made. And that was the difference,” Kent said.