Nine-Spot In Sixth Lifts Pleasant Grove Over Canton In Series Opener
TEXARKANA — The initial meeting in the best-of-three Class 4A regional quarterfinal series between Pleasant Grove and Canton was almost a classic. Almost.
Both teams benefitted from strong defensive performances and even better starting pitching. But the name of the game, especially early in a series, is wearing down the starter and seeing what depth lies beneath.
Pleasant Grove eventually got Canton to move away from Steven Sterling in the bottom of the sixth and turned a scoreless contest into a 9-0 home win.
As funny as it sounds, that’s the consolation for the Eagles heading into a 1 p.m. first pitch today in Canton. Keep the Hawks from getting into the bullpen, they’re right there with a program enjoying its 17th consecutive year in the postseason with a few state titles and even more state tournament appearances in the span.
“Any time you’re playing in the third round, you’re obviously playing at a high level,” Pleasant Grove coach Riley Fincher said. “Canton is no different. This is a team that has won 26 games this year, and that’s not a fluke. They swing the bats well, squared a lot of pitches up and we know we definitely have our hands full going to their place for an early start.”
The two sides sporadically got runners on base only to have the opposing starting pitcher get a handle on the situation through the game’s first five and a half innings.
Will Hlavinka finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth with a grand slam to right field, but that came two at-bats after Canton (26-6) gave up on Sterling.
Sterling previously escaped two runners aboard in the second inning via back-to-back fielding errors and a bases-loaded jam in the fifth on his way to 48 strikes thrown on 75 pitches.
The pitcher’s demise started on a Keaton Russo belt deep to left field on the first pitch of the bottom sixth. Sterling’s left fielder was in decent position for a web gem yet could not get control of the ball after diving and allowed Russo a double.
Sterling’s next pitch hit Tyler Jeans, and that was the end of his day.
Canton’s reliever walked the next man, Connor Ouellette, on five pitches and gave up the grand slam on an 0-0 count to Hlavinka.
Pleasant Grove (30-3) subsequently pushed across five more runs with two outs in the sixth on the aid of a hit-by-pitch sandwiched around two base hits. From there, the Eagles allowed two runs home on an outfielder error at the wall just before a second reliever gave up a two-run homer to Jeans his second time up in the inning.
“The whole game, we were trying different things,” Hlavinka said. “Bunting, trying to move people over, everything we could do to try to get people into scoring position. It just wasn’t working. But we just kept trying to push through, grinding, hoping we could get people on, got people on and then just finally came through. It all finally came together.”
On the other end of the winning equation was Pleasant Grove pitcher Caleb Bolden. He kept the Hawks from potentially experiencing the same reliever woes by stranding three runners in scoring position, and he got bailed out by a 9-6-2 tag at the plate in the third inning during his most vulnerable moment.
Bolden ultimately earned a five-hit shutout with 67 strikes on 90 pitches.
“We got a great scouting report,” Bolden said. “We know they can swing the bats and mash the ball. But we found some weaknesses and just tried to pound at those.”
Pleasant Grove and Canton were originally scheduled to play a double-header Thursday. The University Interscholastic League rejected the proposal since it was a school night.
Signature high school events are the root of today’s 1 p.m. game and a 12:30 p.m. start time Saturday at a site to be determined if Game 3 is necessary.
Canton has its graduation ceremony this evening and Pleasant Grove has prom Saturday evening.
“We’re getting up early and will make the trip up there,” Hlavinka said. “We’ll treat it like just like we did in this one. Hopefully play to the best of our ability and clinch.”
Pleasant Grove 9, Canton 0
Game 1, Class 4A Regional Quarterfinals
At Hawk Field, Texarkana
Canton 000 000 0 — 0 5 3
Pleasant Grove 000 009 X — 9 8 1
Pitchers and catchers
- Canton: Steven Sterling, Caleb Phillips (6), Colbey Johnson (6) and McGwire Martin
- Pleasant Grove: Caleb Bolden and Keaton Russo
WP — Bolden
LP — Sterling
Canton: Simon Miller
Pleasant Grove: Russo, Cade Thompson
Pleasant Grove: Will Hlavinka, Tyler Jeans