Connor Reich Strikes Out 18 to Help Hallsville Oust Michael Kopech + Mount Pleasant
KILGORE -- It hadn't happened very often in the last four years, so Hallsville coach Scott Mitchell had to be curious how his ace Connor Reich would follow up last week's disappointing performance.
And the stage couldn't have been much bigger Friday night with Hallsville squaring off against District 14-4A rival Mount Pleasant and its ace Michael Kopech, who's expected to be among the first high school pitchers selected in next month's MLB draft.
Reich stole the show, striking out 18 batters in a three-hit shutout, carrying the Bobcats to a 5-0 victory over Mount Pleasant in their Class 4A Region II quarterfinal one-game playoff in front of a capacity-crowd at the spacious Driller Park.
"He didn't have a very good outing last Saturday against Corsicana," Mitchell said of Reich, who has signed to play for TCU. "He came back and told me 'coach, it'll be a different Connor. I promise you that you won't have to pull me again.' And that was the first time his whole career I had to go out and take him out of the game. That made him battle and compete even more. He got his confidence back; throughout the game you could kinda see it coming back to him."
Hallsville (30-3) will advance to the regional semifinals where it will meet either Frisco or Frisco Liberty. Mount Pleasant, which entered the playoffs as the fourth seed from 14-4A, finished its season at 15-13.
Reich's command of three pitches, in particular a knee-buckling curve ball, confounded Mount Pleasant hitters all night long. He recorded 18 of the 21 outs via the strikeout -- catcher Nathan Bailey threw out a baserunner and shortstop Colton Oberthier took care of the other two outs.
The Hallsville right-hander did have his fair share of traffic on the bases with which to contend, walking four, hitting a batter and allowing three singles. But each and every time, Reich's penchant for the strikeout bailed out the Bobcats.
"Whenever I put myself in that situation I was frustrated with myself because I did it to myself; it wasn't anyone else, it was on me," Reich said. "I knew that if I didn't bail us out right there from my mistakes then that would've hurt the team's confidence tremendously."
And that was because of Reich's mound opponent Kopech, an Arizona signee that features a 94-98 mph fastball and who entered Friday night having allowed just one hit in two playoff starts.
"I was about as nervous as I've gotten in my entire life," Reich said. "I knew Kopech was going to be ready. I know from experience there's nothing harder than beating a team three times in a row; it doesn't get any harder. I'm proud of my boys."
Kopech, which lost to Hallsville for the second time this season, held the Bobcats to just one run through six innings before the game got away from the Tigers in the top of the seventh.
With one out, pinch-hitter Eric Denby reached second on a two-base throwing error by the Mount Pleasant third baseman. Lance Lassen followed with an infield single, then stole second to put runners at second and third for Macailyn Wilder.
After Kopech got ahead of Wilder in the count 0-2, the Hallsville leadoff man smoked a two-run double into the gap in left-center to give Reich and the Bobcats some breathing room.
"I was really hoping that he'd start me off with a fastball, but he didn't," Wilder said. "After he threw that (third) curve to me, I just knew where it was going to be. So I geared up for it and I hit it."
Jacob Walker and Reich drew consecutive walks to load the bases, and after Kopech's eighth and final strikeout of the night, Logan Bailey's infield popup was dropped by the Mount Pleasant shortstop and two runners crossed home to open up a 5-0 lead for Hallsville.
Kopech allowed five runs (two earned) on five hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.
"My arm is kinda dragging right now because I threw them the ball as hard as I could all week long, both my assistants and I," Mitchell said. "I just tried to pound the ball in on them and let them kinda see the ball get on them quick. We had to shorten our swing and just try to put the ball in play."
Reich struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh, which set off a wild celebration in between the pitcher's mound and the first-base dugout.
"I'm so proud of (Reich) competing because there were a lot of people here to see (Kopech)," Mitchell said. "That's the second time Connor's gone toe-to-toe with him. Just an incredible performance by a senior, who's been doing it for four years for us. And he's not done."
Mount Pleasant wasted a pair of golden opportunities early in the game. Jordan Raney's first-inning single loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first, but Reich retired Kopech and Christian Moulton on strikes to end the threat.
Then in the third, Andrew Flanagan drew a leadoff walk, stole second and reached third when the ball got away from the Hallsville catcher. Once again, Reich came through by striking out the side.
"We had an inning there where they had a runner at third with no outs and we got out of it without giving up a run," Mitchell said. "That was a huge part of the game because it gave us confidence and we came back and scored in the top of the fourth."
Reich led off the fourth by jumping on the first pitch off the inning and sending it on a sharp line to left field. The Mount Pleasant defender lost his footing and the ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Reich to reach third. Austin Blakeley followed with an RBI single up the middle to give Hallsville a 1-0 lead.
"We saw (Kopech) the second round of district, which was about a month ago," Mitchell said. "I knew my kids would compete; I knew that they'd step in that box and they'd compete, they weren't afraid. We were just trying to put the ball in play, that was our goal."
Hallsville 5, Mount Pleasant 0
Class 4A Region II Quarterfinal Playoff
At Driller Park, Kilgore
Hallsville 000 100 4 -- 5 5 0
Mount Pleasant 000 000 0 -- 0 3 4
Pitchers and catchers
- Hallsville: Connor Reich and Nathan Bailey.
- Mount Pleasant: Michael Kopech and Riley Greenlee.
WP -- Reich.
LP -- Kopech.
- Hallsville: Macailyn Wilder.
- Hallsville: Reich.