By Monty Campbell
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE Sunshine was in abundance at Bulldawg Field on Thursday for the start of the annual Bulldawg Varsity Invitational, unlike last year when the start of the tournament was delayed due to heavy rains the night prior.
Unfortunately for the baseball team, that is where the good news ended as the Dawgs dropped a nail-biter to the Hutto Hippos 6-5, sending them into the losers bracket. Copperas Cove (0-2) returns to action Friday morning at 10:45 against the Brownwood Lions.
After his teammates fought back to forge a 4-4 tie in the top of the fourth inning, Bulldawg starting pitcher Logan Brock walked Hippos' leadoff batter Marc Garza. Garza promptly stole second base and advanced to third as the throw sailed into center field.
Brock retired the next batter on strikes but Jeremy Kerley took the first pitch he saw into deep left field for the sacrifice fly.
The Hippos added another run in the bottom of the fifth inning when a two-out walk to Chris Thompson came back to haunt reliever Kyle Mathews.
John Cannon completed his perfect night (2-for-2, 3 RBIs) by hitting the first pitch he saw from Mathews down the right-field line for a double, scoring Tony Dill (courtesy running for Cannon) from second and giving Hutto a 6-4 lead.
Cove got one of the runs back in the top of the sixth inning, even without a base hit. After retiring the first two batters he faced in the inning, Thompson became erratic with his pitches against the bottom third of the Cove lineup.
Mathews started the two out rally by falling behind in the count 1-2 but working it full and eventually drawing a seven pitch walk. Nathan Kepler followed with another walk and Thompson's first pitch plunked Joseph Davis in the left thigh.
With the bases loaded and leadoff hitter Bryant Lopez in the box, Thompson uncorked a wild pitch that allowed courtesy runner Keith Knowlton to scamper across the plate.
Lopez then drove the ball to deep left field, sending the Bulldawg faithful into a stunned silence for the moment, only to have it fall into the left-fielder's glove for the final out.
The Hippos loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth against Bulldawg closer Brent Garner but were kept off the board as Garner struck out the clean-up and fifth hitters, giving Cove one more opportunity for the victory.
Thompson made the Bulldawgs' last opportunity a short-lived one, facing only four batters, getting Raphael Chavez to line out to the right fielder for the final out of the contest.
The bottom of the Hutto line-up contributed three of Hutto's four runs in the first three innings with Cannon driving in two runs on a sacrifice fly and a single and an RBI single by Garza.
Garner was the driving force behind the Cove offense in the early going, scoring on a John Scalsky single in the first and then hitting his first home run of the season with Davis on base in the third inning.
The blast, which may have been wind aided, landed just beyond the right field fence, giving the Bulldawgs a short-lived 3-2 lead.
"Overall, we improved from Monday. Our pitching (fewer walks) and defense was better (fewer errors) than Monday, so we are improving," Copperas Cove head coach Brian Jost said. "As long as we continue to improve, the wins and losses will fall into place."
n Gatesville 14, Shoemaker 5 The Gatesville Hornets jumped out to an early 10-1 lead after three innings and coasted to the landslide victory.
Kirby Ruiz picked up the victory for the Hornets, allowing one run on one hit while striking out five and walking one in three innings of work.
n Vista Ridge 11, Lampasas 10 Derrick Lee knocked in the winning run with a two-out hit as he grounded a 1-1 pitch just past the outstretched glove of Kristen Leverett at first base.
The Rangers scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning for the come-from-behind victory in the opening round of the Bulldawg Varsity Invitational.
n Ellison 15, Elgin 3 The Ellison Eagles batted around in the pivotal nine-run fourth inning to capture a five-inning victory over the Wildcats.
Ryan Mahan picked up the win in relief as he entered the contest in the bottom of the second inning with a runner on first base and nobody out.
n Lorena 7, Brownwood 0 Lorena's starting pitcher Brian Buchanon produced the most dominating individual performance on the first day of the tournament as tossed a one-hit shutout en route to the Leopards first round victory over the Lions.
Fittingly, he completed his evening with his 12th strikeout of a Lion while only walking one batter in six innings of work.
The final contest of the evening between Lorena and Hutto was in progress at press time.
Contact Monty Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org