The Randall Raiders don’t seem to be bothered by any hiccups they’ve encountered in the postseason.
Then again, when you’ve won 30 straight games, hiccups aren’t a major health issue.
Playing District 4-4A rival Hereford for the third and fourth times this season in the Class 4A region quarterfinal round, No. 3 Randall showed the extremes of playoff situations at West Texas A&M’s Wilder Park. The Raiders capped the series late Friday morning by beating Hereford 13-3 in a five-inning 10-run mercy rule win to advance to the region semifinals next week against either Wichita Falls or Glen Rose.
That win was the polar opposite of Thursday’s first game, which was as classic a playoff pitching duel as you’ll ever see at the high school level, as Randall left-hander Carson Haffner threw a no-hitter to outdo Hereford’s Carlos Duran for a 1-0 victory.
Randall (34-3) had beaten Hereford (21-11-2) twice in run-rule decisions in district play. If the Raiders took that dominance for granted, that ended after game one against the Whitefaces.
“I don’t think we were asleep,” said Randall coach Cory Hamilton of his team. “It was a really good job by (Duran) yesterday and they played really good defense. It was a great baseball game.
“We were hoping to get out early today. The team that got out early was going to have a big advantage.”
The Raiders got all the offense they would need in the bottom of the first inning of the second game. They took a 4-0 lead against Hereford freshman Kalub Ramirez, as Mason Gilbert’s three-run double the other way to right field was the big blow.
That hit alone exceeded the combined offensive total of the two teams from the previous day. Randall had only two hits and one unearned run off Duran.
“We knew we were the better team the whole time but we had to come out and prove it so getting on them early was the way to prove it,” Gilbert said. “It felt like we needed to come out and prove we could hit better than we did yesterday.”
Hereford was held hitless for the first eight innings of the series, as Randall’s game two starter Duncan Bowles retired the first four hitters he faced. But the Herd got on the board in the second as Noah Zamora walked and scored on a double to right-center by Marcos Acosta to cut it to 4-1.
That was as close as Hereford got, though. The Raiders scored at least one run in all five innings, and after scoring three runs in the third off young prodigy Ramirez, highlighted by Blaine Brannon’s two-run double, they led 8-1 and knocked Ramirez out of the game.
Hereford gave some glimmer of hope when with one out in the top of the fifth, Tell Bryant hit a two-run single to left center to cut it to 9-3. But Bowles got Duran to hit into a double play to end the inning.
It was the second time Bowles got the Herd to hit into a double play after scoring a run to squash rallies.
“Since I’ve been at Randall we’ve always tried to hang out hat on pitching and defense,” Hamilton said. “This is a well-rounded bunch as you saw today, and if they can continue that we’ll be hard to shut down.”
Randall took care of the run-rule margin in the bottom of the fifth against Hereford reliever Bryant. The Raiders got only two hits in the inning but took advantage of three walks and a hit batter.
After scoring two runs via wild pitches and an error, Gilbert and Brannon drew back-to-back full count walks, the latter of which brought home the run to attain the run rule.
There wasn’t nearly as much suspense as there had been the previous day. The first game was scoreless until the top of the sixth when Randall leadoff hitter Payton Bush reached on an error. Bush eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Kaden Juarez for the game’s only run.
It was a tough-luck loss for Duran, who gave up only two hits. But it wasn’t enough against Haffner, who was near-perfect, walking one for Hereford’s only baserunner.
“What Carlos did, you’re talking about the No. 3 team in the state of Texas and holding them to two singles and no earned runs,” Hereford coach Grant Davis said. “That hurt us when you’re talking mentally having to make plays to get it done and we didn’t. Today they were ready for us. What a great baseball team Randall has and I wish them all the luck in the world.”
Nazareth rolls in game two to sweep Claude
In another matchup between Panhandle teams which had first game drama, Nazareth wasted little time in completing a sweep of Claude on Friday morning.
After getting the second game of the series moved from Hodgetown to Plainview due to torrential rains Thursday evening, Nazareth took an early lead and didn’t let up in rolling to a 14-1 run-rule victory to complete a series sweep in a region semifinal series. The Swifts (16-4) will play either Gorman or May in the region finals next week to determine who goes to the state tournament. It’s the third straight year that the Swifts will play for a Region I-1A championship.
“Going into the season we had seven seniors back, so we knew we had the opportunity for another big run,” Nazareth baseball coach Tyler Goodwin said. “We’ve had some obstacles to overcome, and we were tested. But the seniors showed up in this series and I’m proud of them.”
The first game contained the type of intensity typified by a three-game series. Claude tied it with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and almost won it before Nazareth scored four runs in the top of the eighth to escape with an 8-4 win.
In the second game which was scheduled to start immediately after the first game, Nazareth took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. However, heavy rain forced the game to be stopped after two innings and continued the next day in Plainview.
The Swifts suffered no loss in momentum with the delay. They scored four runs in the third and attained the run rule with seven runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Nazareth’s Tanner Birkenfeld hit a home run and drove in four runs, Carson Heiman drove in three runs and Sterl Welps and Jack Welps both drove in two runs. Claude finished the season 16-9.
The first game was in doubt far more often. Both teams scored in the first, as Nazareth took a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Sterl Welps. Claude responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning, two of them unearned, highlighted by a two-run double by Luke Knox to make it 3-1.
That’s the way it stayed until the top of the sixth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Nazareth’s Luke Schulte singled to left-center off Claude starter Braygon Conrad bringing home two runs, and a third came home when the ball was misplayed in the outfield, giving the Swifts a 4-3 lead.
It set up a dramatic bottom of the seventh inning in which both teams had a shot to win it in regulation. With one out and a runner on first, Jayden Blandford grounded to third and it looked as if the Swifts might turn a game-ending double play, but it was ruled that Blandford beat the relay throw to the bag, and the game continued.
Knox then singled to left off Nazareth reliever Sterl Welps to put two runners on, and on the next pitch, Brian Campbell doubled down the left field line to score courtesy runner Caden McLaughlin to tie the game. Knox tried to come all the way home from first with the winning run, but Brett Heitschmidt threw him out at the plate to force extra innings.
Conrad hit Will Young with a pitch to start the eighth and was relieved by Knox. Heitschmidt reached on a throwing error by Claude second baseman Dawson Ensey, and Young came all the way around to score.
Tell Bagley’s infield single and a walk to Schulte loaded the bases. A balk brought home a run and Heiman’s two-run single capped the scoring.