BELTON — History was on the verge of repeating for the Belton baseball team on Friday, and it almost made the Tigers re-live a low point of their season.
Fortunately, junior ace Jared Janczak maintained his composure at a critical time.
Down to their final out, Janczak chopped a single over down the left-field line to score courtesy runner Matt Varville for the winning run in Belton’s thrilling 8-7 win over fellow district leader Waco Midway to secure the District 8-5A title at Tiger Field.
“I was just trying to get a base hit or just put the ball in play. If I got a hit I knew we had a guy on second who could score,” Janczak said. “For my best moments as a baseball player this is way up there.”
Janczak was set up by Joe Pare reaching base on at throwing error by Midway relief pitcher Nathan Kent. Varville came in to run for Pare and was sacrificed to second by Ryne Niemi. Mark Herrington was hit by a pitch and Cameron Cooper lined to right to set up Janczak’s moment of glory.
Belton (20-10-1, 13-1 8-5A) captured a district crown after coming up short the previous two seasons. The Tigers, 8-5A’s top seed, will face South Grand Prairie (16-15) at a date and place to be determined. Midway (18-12, 12-2) had a seven-game winning streak snapped and will face Cedar Hill (21-5-1) in the bi-district round.
Belton rebounded after failing to hold a 7-1 lead, including a 7-4 advantage in the seventh inning, as the Panthers rallied in dramatic style.
After a Ross Coskrey single to right and a Case Smith single to left, Midway’s Hunter Jarmon smashed a two-out home run over the center-field fence off Tigers reliever Justin Golden.
Midway’s rally was similar to the last meeting between the teams as the Panthers came back from a 5-0 deficit for a 6-5 win March 28 in Hewitt.
“Nobody feels worse about what happened in the top of the seventh than me and Golden,” Belton coach Eddie Cornblum said. “We stayed calm because we knew we had the guys who could do the job and score a run.”
The Tigers hit Midway starting pitcher Nathan Gonzales hard immediately and knocked him out the game early.
Cooper led off the bottom of the first with a double to right-center and came home on a double by Janczak that reached the right-center fence. After a Joey Hogan walk Janczak’s courtesy runner Jeremy Beaver scored on a Walker Winders single to left.
Hogan scored on an errant throw by Midway shortstop Kramer Robertson in an attempt to complete a double play on a Chase Sortor grounder. Gonzales lasted one-third of an inning, allowing two earned runs, four hits and a walk.
Midway struck back for a run in the top of the second as Jarmon walked, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Ben Hicks groundout, but the Tigers would strike back harder in the bottom of the frame, with Winders providing the big hit. After Cooper walked and stole second Hogan hit a RBI double off the centerfield fence. Winders followed with a two-run homer over the right-center fence.
Winders finished 2-for-3, but the shortstop’s biggest play may have been in the sixth inning on defense. He made a diving stop and difficult throw to deny a hit for Dustin Vasek, ending the inning and preserving a 7-4 lead.
“I liked the defensive play the best, especially the throw. I was looking into the outfield so I practically was throwing blind,” Winders said. “We hit the ball well early because we knew we get could hits and were excited to win.”
Belton extended its lead to 7-1 in the fourth when Herrington scored on a wild pitch. Midway fought back in the fifth with a two-out rally, starting with a RBI double off the right-center fence by Smith, Midway’s first hit of the game. Smith would eventually score on a wild pitch and Robertson came home on a Harrison Minor single to center, but on Minor’s hit Janczak cut off the throw from center fielder Cooper and threw out Jarmon trying to advance to third base.
Janczak had mixed success in picking up a no-decision. In five innings he allowed four earned runs, two hits, five walks with five strikeouts. Janczak, who also had a no-decision in the March 28 game, also had three wild pitches. Janczak had a 3-for-5 day at the plate, but he was close to going 5-for-5 possibly with two more extra-base hits, but Midway left fielder Ben Hicks made catches of Janczak drives in the second and fifth innings, running into the fence each time.
Cooper finished 2-for-3 for Belton. Kent (2-4) took a hard-luck loss despite a good outing in relief, allowing no earned runs, two hits and two walks over 3 2/3 innings with four strikeouts.
The showdown drew an enthusiastic and near-capacity crowd to Tiger Field, with some spectators emphasizing their spirit with horns and drums. Winders lingered in this atmosphere after the game, remembering when he was cheering himself.
“I was cheering my brother Garrett in the stands when he won a district title in 2005,” Winders said. “I did this for him.”