TROY — Salado got the final word Saturday afternoon.
The Eagles cruised by the China Cougars 19-1 in Game 3 of a Class 4A area-round series to advance to the Region III quarterfinals for the third straight season.
The Eagles led 6-0 before scoring 13 runs in the fourth inning, when Salado sent 19 batters to the plate, and closed the contest in a run-rule shortened five innings.
“You never expect to score (nearly) 20 runs but I did expect us to bounce back,” said Salado second-year head coach Kreece Cooper, whose team was shut out 3-0 in Game 2 after winning the series opener 11-4 during Friday night’s doubleheader. “When the ball starts falling for you, it just gets contagious and you roll with it. We got back to what we do well and we get to move on.”
Salado (24-3-2) will face Lorena next. The three-game series is set for Friday and Saturday at Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Jacob Wilk and Dalton Hawes had the two biggest swings for Salado in the fourth-inning avalanche. Wilk — who finished 4 for 4 with five RBIs — hit a two-run home run and Hawes greeted China Spring (20-12-1) relief pitcher Michael Barrett with a grand slam to move Salado ahead 16-1. Caleb Self drove in a run after being hit with the bases loaded, Max Marin reached first on a dropped third strike to score Rustin Hale from third and Belton Farr drew a bases-loaded walk to cap the scoring.
“I knew it was a home run off the bat, so I did a little bat flip to kind of get back at all the chirping (China Spring) was doing,” Wilk said. “It felt good because they kept chirping and that moment really shifted the feeling of the game. They kind of got under our skin there for a little bit, so it felt good to put that one over the wall.”
After being held scoreless for the first time this season, as well as seeing its 15-game win streak snapped in Game 2, the Eagles jumped on the China Spring pitching staff in Game 3.
Ryan Oakes and Hawes drew walks to start the game and Wilk singled through the left side to put Salado on top 1-0. Kade Maedgen hit a two-out double that scored Hawes and Wilk for a 3-0 advantage after one inning. The Eagles got back to work in the second with two more walks to lead off the frame, and Hawes singled to load the bases for Wilk. The shortstop drove in a pair with a single, and Mac Miller made it 6-0 on a fielder’s choice ground out.
“We had every intention of coming in here and winning the game but it just got away from us,” China Spring coach Jesse Lopez said. “Those guys can really swing the bats well, and if you walk guys like we did, it’s only going to hurt you. You can live with the big hit, but only if you avoid walks.”
The Cougars plated one run in the fourth inning in what was Salado pitcher Konnor Baird’s only wayward inning. Peyton Hofferichter was hit by a pitch and Jacob Bright singled to put runners at first and second with no outs for China Spring. Jaxson Pitts hit an RBI single to left field to cut into Salado’s lead, 6-1. Baird bounced back with two strikeouts and a ground out back to the mound to end the threat.
“I tell all our pitchers that our best pitch is strike one and (Baird) really did that well today,” Cooper said. “He was able to get ahead and started going to work.”
Baird gave up the one run on three hits and struck out seven with no walks in four innings.
The Eagles got the run back in their next at-bat, and then some. Salado tallied 13 runs on eight hits — five of which for extra bases — to turn a 6-1 advantage into the 19-1 onslaught. Oakes tripled to start the inning, Hawes singled home Oakes, Wilk homered and Hale doubled for three quick runs. Marin hit a bases-loaded double that scored a pair and Hawes came up for the second time in the inning with the bases loaded and watched as he hit 2-2 hanging curveball over the left-center field wall.
“I was confident when I saw who was pitching and the bases were juiced. I thought ‘This could be my chance to get my first home run.’ I was thinking if I hit the ball hard, it was going to go somewhere,” Hawes said.
Miller closed things out in the top of the fifth by getting Brayden Mathis to fly out to Hawes at second base, striking out Cameron Jenkins and setting Bright down on strikes.
Hawes finished 3 for 3 with five RBIs, Hale went 2 for 3 with a double and Maedgen had two RBIs to go along with a double and a pair of walks.
China Spring burned through five pitchers in the contest. Ty Herman started and lasted one inning, allowing three runs on two hits and three walks. Chase Archibald recorded one out while giving up two runs on two hits. Carson Bell allowed seven runs through 1 2/3 innings, Barrett surrendered seven runs through 2/3 inning and Seth Jennings pitched 1/3 of an inning.