Pleasant Grove Edges Decatur in Extras + Reaches Eighth State Tournament in 10 Seasons
TYLER — Pleasant Grove senior outfielder Heath Ferguson was struggling. He had struck out in six of seven at-bats before his plate appearance in extra innings Thursday afternoon at Mike Carter Field.
Ferguson ended up being the right man in the right spot.
His bloop RBI single to shallow left field in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie, and lifted Pleasant Grove a 1-0 win over Decatur that clinched the Class 4A Region II championship and sent the Hawks to their eighth state baseball tournament in 10 seasons.
“I knew my team needed me right there,” said Ferguson, whose game-winning hit scored Cade Thompson, who reached on an infield single to begin the inning. “I’d been struggling at the plate so I just went in for a small hit, and that’s what we needed.”
It was Pleasant Grove’s first hit with a man in scoring position in eight previous tries on the day.
“Obviously he’s struggling, everybody in the park saw him struggling, and he’s beating himself up,” Hawks coach Riley Fincher said of Ferguson. “To see him do whatever it takes and fist one to left field to score the game-winning run just speaks huge volumes for him. I couldn’t be more happy for an individual like him with how much he means to this program.”
Pleasant Grove (35-3) sophomore reliever Nick Voyles worked out of trouble in the bottom of the eighth. With runners at first and second and two out, Voyles got Dayne Chapman to ground out to first baseman Will Hlavinka, sending the Hawks back to Austin.
PG has reached the state tournament every year except 2014 and 2015 since 2008. The Hawks were eliminated in the semifinals by eventual state champion Abilene Wylie last season.
The last state title for Pleasant Grove came in 2012.
“I’m from Texarkana originally, I moved back here five years ago,” said Fincher, who is in his third season as head coach. “It’s always been played at a high level there in Texarkana with all the high schools and all the youth programs. They’ve always played at a high level here at PG, and our players have continued on that success.”
Tyler Jeans, pitching on four days rest for the first time this season, got the start for Pleasant Grove, and worked 6 1/3 innings before reaching the 110-pitch limit. He allowed three hits, struck out six, walked four, and hit a batter.
Following a lengthy 35-pitch second inning, in which Decatur (27-12) left the bases loaded, Jeans settled down, retiring eight consecutive hitters at one point.
“I just had to fight through it, keeping fighting, and eventually something was going to give for me,” Jeans said. “I didn’t have my best off-speed stuff today, so I had to fight with my fastball and change speeds with it.”
Chapman led off the bottom of the seventh with a single for Decatur, and was moved to second on an Eddie Fernandez sacrifice bunt.
Matthew Gilley then came on in relief of Jeans, and retired Alec Uselton with a flyout to right. After an intentional walk to Eagles leadoff hitter Tyler Ticknor, Fincher went with Voyles out of the bullpen.
Trey Penny’s grounder to shortstop ended the inning and sent the game into extras.
“I put a sophomore out there on the mound, Nick Voyles, who hadn’t pitched in a while,” Fincher said. “He continues to work hard in practice, continues to do all the right things, and to see him get up there and compete and not panic when a guy gets on second base … still filling the strike zone, still trusting his defense behind him, that’s just an outstanding performance.”
Decatur ace Bryce Elder went the first seven innings, and held down a Pleasant Grove lineup that struck for 10 runs in Wednesday night’s series opener.
Elder allowed just two hits with seven strikeouts and three walks. He did not allow his first hit until Connor Ouellette’s bunt single with two outs in the fifth.
“That kid’s a competitor, a bulldog on the mound,” Fincher said of Elder. “I thought he did an outstanding job of locating three pitches against us all day. Our approach was still aggressive at the plate, but you definitely have to tip your hat to him.”
Pleasant Grove will play at either 4 or 7 p.m. Wednesday from UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin in one 4A semifinal.
Defending champion Abilene Wylie has already advanced out of Region I. China Spring plays Robinson in a one-game playoff Thursday night for the Region III title, while Sinton and Robstown begin their Region IV championship series Thursday night as well.
No. 4 Pleasant Grove 1, Decatur 0 (8)
Class 4A Region II Championship — Game 2
At Mike Carter Field, Tyler
Pleasant Grove 000 000 01 — 1 4 1
Decatur 000 000 00 — 0 4 0
Pitchers and catchers
- Pleasant Grove: Tyler Jeans, Matthew Gilley (7), Nick Voyles (7) and Keaton Russo
- Decatur: Bryce Elder, Wilson Hicks (8), Derek Potts (8) and Dayne Chapman
WP — Voyles
LP — Hicks