By Evan Mohl
Killeen Daily Herald
WACO – The Bulldawg baseball team could only dig itself out of so many holes in its opening playoff game on Friday.
Copperas Cove managed to overcome a four-run deficit, five errors, a double play and a blown sign with an exhilarating three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh, only to see Midlothian put the Bulldawgs in one last hole they couldn't climb out of.
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. Midlothian triumphed 7-5 in extra innings to take a one-game lead in the best-of-three series.
Game two will be at the Waco ISD Sports Complex tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. Game three, if necessary, starts 30 minutes after the conclusion of the matinee.
"I wouldn't call it jitters, I think it's just sometimes how the game goes," Bulldawgs coach Brian Jost said with a bit of disappointment. "Eventually we settled down and the game was great. It sucks that we came out on the losing end.
"The kids kept battling."
It didn't take long for Midlothian (22-8) to put Cove (15-13) in the first hole. The Panthers scored one in the first inning on an error, and then added two 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, but the Bulldawgs had plenty of chances.
In the same third inning, John Smart got thrown out at third base when the umpire missed a runner's interference call. Cove got a runner to third in the fourth and two on in the sixth, before Midlothian starter Jake Foster shut the door. The Bulldawgs also left the bases loaded in the seventh at the end of their three-run rally.
"We had our chances," Jost said. "There were some things we didn't do that we needed to do."
After the Panthers added what seemed like an insurance run in the seventh, 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.
"It was a big break," Midlothian coach Ray Hydes said. "I heard the mitt hit the bat. Baseball is just a game of inches sometimes and those inches favored us in that scenario.
"As a coach you really hate to see games decided like that, but that's how it goes sometimes."
Jost did not come out to argue.
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.
"Taylor is the MVP of our team all year," Hydes said. "He's an unbelievable kid that loves to play the game and you love to have players like that."
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.
"It's the playoffs and anthing can happen," Hydes said. "Cove came to battle tonight and they've got a good team. There's still at least one more game left tomorrow, so who knows what that'll bring?"
Contact Evan Mohl at email@example.com or (254) 501-7564.