Center Gains The District Lead In 6-2 Win Over Carthage
CARTHAGE -- No. 17 Carthage had the high ground entering Friday's critical District 19-4A tilt with an eight-game winning streak following a walk-off loss at Center on March 23.
Three weeks ago, it avenged that defeat at home and maintained a half-game lead against the chasing Roughriders. All that remained on the agenda was taking care of Center a second time and winning one of its final two games.
But the window of opportunity has closed. The No. 18 Roughriders scratched out a 6-2 win in their second trip to Jim Reeves Field and likely won at least a majority share of the league by doing so.
"The last time we were here, we dropped a 4-2 game," Roughriders head coach David Sheppard said. "I told the guys, 'Just get back here. Get back here, don't lose another game and we will win. Just get back to Carthage.'"
With one week remaining in the regular season and both teams already past securing the league's second-place playoff seed in a worst-case scenario, there are now two ways for Center to win the first-place seed.
District 19-4A is a five-team league. It plays three rounds of district competition.
Friday's win secured the Roughriders (15-3, 9-2) a winning head-to-head record against Carthage (12-8, 8-2). That's the ultimate tiebreaker should the two teams finish the district season with the same record.
The only way Center -- which only has one regular season game remaining -- can lose the district title is with a loss next Friday at Rusk.
Rusk did defeat the Roughriders in March, but Center won a 7-2 game at the Eagles' place earlier this month.
The tiebreaker in hand, Sheppard's squad will win a majority share of the league championship if both Center and Carthage win all of their remaining games. If Carthage loses one of its final two games and Center defeats Rusk, the Roughriders will win the district outright.
"It's huge for Center and it's huge for this program," Sheppard said. "These kids, the group of seniors that I have, they have never been scared of Carthage. Every time they played Carthage, there was something a little extra there."
It was an uphill battle for Carthage from the beginning.
Two-hole hitter Brett Clark hit through the middle gap and shortstop Taylor Tomlin drew a five-pitch walk with one out in the top of the first. Roughriders' first baseman Dalton Horton, a TCU signee, then hit an RBI double to deep left field and Caiden Rainbolt followed it up with a sacrifice hit the next at-bat.
Center increased its lead to 5-0 in the fifth inning.
Marco Gutierrez opened the frame with a leadoff hit through the middle gap on an 0-2 count. Jared Wiggins meant only to advance Gutierrez, but he got on the bags with a sacrifice bunt.
With virtually an extra out to use, Josh Burns laid down a bunt and reached on a throwing error which helped Gutierrez advance from second base to home. Catcher Brett Clark followed that at-bat up with a bunt and also arrived safely to load the bases.
Tomlin forced in another run on a four-pitch walk. Horton then recorded his second RBI of the game with a sacrifice ground out.
Carthage right fielder Anthony Chhor saved more damage with a catch in right field and a throw home that beat pinch runner Joseph Fentross for a double play.
The Bulldogs struggled to break down Center starting pitcher Jacob Mitchell. He threw 129 pitches in a complete game win.
Mitchell allowed seven hits and three walks through seven innings of work. Three of the hits came with two outs.
Chhor broke up the shutout bid with a two RBI base hit in the bottom sixth.
Tomlin tripled for Center in the seventh and came home the next at-bat on a throwing error.
The Bulldogs put the tying run at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Cagan Baldree struck out swinging with the bases loaded.
Carthage will try to put itself into the best position possible for a come-from-behind win in the standings on the road at Rusk. It closes the regular season next Friday at Tatum while Center battles Rusk.
"This win means everything," Mitchell said. "The last time we came here, we had a bad taste in our mouth. We knew if we were ever going to get back to this opportunity that we would take it."
No. 18 Center 6, No. 17 Carthage 2
District 19-4A Baseball
At Jim Reeves Memorial Field
Center 200 030 1 -- 6 7 0
Carthage 000 002 0 -- 2 7 3
Pitchers and catchers
- Carthage: Cole Clinton, Blaine Tomlin (5) and Micah Templeton
- Center: Jacob Mitchell and Brett Clark
WP -- Mitchell
LP -- Clinton
- Carthage: Jarod Blissett, Anthony Chhor, Hunter Townsend
- Center: Dalton Horton
- Center: Taylor Tomlin