Zach Eschberger + Bullard Help Coach Celebrate Birth Of Second Son With Series Sweep Of Canton
TYLER -- Perhaps the only baseball coach in the state of Texas void of weather complaints this weekend is Bullard's Chad Linder.
His wife gave birth to their second son, Max Cooper, at 6:24 p.m. Thursday evening. It looked as though the new arrival would cause him to miss the Panthers' playoff series opener with Canton, but Mother Nature stepped in on his behalf and forced a postponement.
Hours later, Linder was back at the ballpark to watch Bullard earn a 2-0 series sweep of Canton with 2-0 and 7-5 wins Friday afternoon at Mike Carter Field.
"It's kinda been a roller-coaster ride, having the rainout yesterday," Linder said. "I was gonna let my assistant coaches get after it (yesterday), and I wasn't even planning on going to the game. But everything happens for a reason, and gosh … I'm just blessed to be here."
Bullard senior left-hander Zach Eschberger made sure his coach's first day as the father of two boys was a special one by tossing a one-hit shutout in Game 1 and recording the final three outs for a Game 2 save.
"It's been awesome," Eschberger said of the previous 24 hours. "With the rain delay and him having a kid, it's been topsy-turvy, but it was a great day for us, and we're real happy."
Bullard (19-6), which has now won four consecutive games in the playoffs, will meet the winner of the Van-Paris North Lamar series next week in the Class 4A Region II quarterfinals.
"They're just having fun," Linder said of his team. "We have a lot of camaraderie amongst the guys even though we're really diverse as far as freshmen to seniors. We have a lot of different classifications and personalities out there, but we gel well together. You kinda grow as the season moves along, and we're gonna continue to do so."
Eschberger, who is signed to Henderson State, carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the opener before Canton's Cole Sullivan led off the frame with a double to bring the tying run to the plate for the Eagles.
But the Bullard pitcher induced three consecutive outs, the final two via the strikeout, to give Bullard the 1-0 series lead.
Eschberger needed only 59 pitches -- 45 of which were strikes -- to complete seven innings with six strikeouts and no walks. He faced just one batter over the minimum. His only other baserunner was hit by a pitch in the second, but he was doubled up on a sharp line-drive to left field, ending the inning.
"I just kinda let my team to play behind me," Eschberger said. "I don't like to walk a whole lot of people, so I just try to get ahead, and let my defense play behind me."
Hunter Moore was the tough-luck loser for Canton (10-8), allowing just two unearned runs on four hits with three strikeouts, one walk and one hit batsman in six innings.
An untimely defensive miscue allowed both Bullard runs to score in the fourth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Nic Costas slapped a grounder to shortstop, which appeared destined to be the final out of the inning. But the first baseman couldn't handle the throw, and Brooks Parham and Ty Miller came around to score.
Bullard left six men on base for the game, including four in the first two innings alone, but the two-spot in the fourth was all Eschberger needed.
"We've had quite a few games like that," the pitcher said. "We're not known for putting 10 runs up every game. We kinda take what the defense gives us, so it really didn't bother me. I knew my defense would keep playing behind me, and we wouldn't have a problem."
Bullard found its groove at the plate in Game 2, opening up a 5-1 lead after three innings. The Panthers seemed to be in cruise control when the lead increased to 7-2 in the top of the sixth, but Canton battled back with three runs in the sixth, prompting Linder to bring back his ace from Game 1 to close the door in the seventh.
"I never felt like I was really needed because we have a pretty good bullpen behind us," Eschberger said. "There are a lot of guys that can come in and throw strikes. But my pitch count was real low the first game, so my arm still felt good to go."
Chandler Eiland doubled with one out to once again bring the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but Eschberger retired the next two hitters to finish the job.
"Zach's a huge competitor and he's been competing since his freshman year on varsity," Linder said. "He's part of our senior leadership, so his expectation is to go out and do that. He drives himself, he pushes himself, and he wants to carry the team on his back."
Eschberger's RBI groundout and a Canton error spotted Bullard a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but Kyle Farrell's RBI double cut the deficit to a run.
Bullard broke it open in the third with three runs on four hits, punctuated by Travis Kotzur's two-run single. The Panthers were up 5-1 with the bases loaded and nobody out when Canton went to its bullpen.
"We needed to get deep in their bullpen, and I told the guys that we needed to jump on them early," Linder said of Game 2's approach. "And they did a really good job of swinging away, moving the baserunners, and going to the gaps."
Canton cut the deficit to 7-5 with three runs in the sixth on John Adams' RBI groundout, a wild pitch, and Sullivan's RBI single.
Class 4A Region II Area Baseball Playoffs
At Mike Carter Field, Tyler
Game 1 -- Bullard 2, Canton 0
Canton 000 000 0 -- 0 1 3
Bullard 000 200 x -- 2 4 0
Pitchers and catchers
- Canton: Hunter Moore and John Adams
- Bullard: Zach Eschberger and Cleet Bowman
- WP -- Eschberger
- LP -- Moore
- Canton: Cole Sullivan
Game 2 -- Bullard 7, Canton 5
Bullard 203 011 0 -- 7 8 1
Canton 010 013 0 -- 5 10 3
Pitchers and catchers
- Bullard: Ty Miller, Eschberger (7) and Bowman
- Canton: Steven Sterling, Gus Brewer (3) and Adams
- WP -- Miller
- LP -- Sterling
- S -- Eschberger
- Canton: Kyle Farrell, Moore, Chandler Eiland