Pleasant Grove Falls To Abilene Wylie In State Semifinals
AUSTIN -- Like some of the school's teams before it, the Hawks went about packing up the dugout Wednesday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in complete silence after a 7-5 loss to Abilene Wylie in the Class 4A state semifinal round.
Some teams during Pleasant Grove's amazing six-year run to state tournaments exited the same ballpark with the same feeling. Some teams celebrated the particular occasion and went on to fall in the state championship game. Two teams won the whole thing.
What's this team's legacy?
Well, it was the one that laid the framework for the program to make a similar run following a two-year hiatus from the ultimate level of competition. And it only lost one of nine playoff games, quite a feat in and of itself.
"We're losing nine seniors," Pleasant Grove head coach Riley Fincher said. "Five senior starters. But we do have a lot of guys back and a lot more in our program. A lot of guys that are always excited to be a part of the Hawk program. It's going to sting. It's definitely going to sting for a while.
"I hate it. I unbelievably hate it for our kids and our seniors, but we have a lot of guys that will do whatever it takes to get back here next year and however many times we have the opportunity to."
Abilene Wylie (31-3-1), the No. 1 4A team in the state, cleared out its dugout last season at the same juncture in similarly silent fashion. This year, it will return to Disch-Falk Field for the state championship game Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against Salado.
First-time nerves might have played a part in a disastrous second inning for Pleasant Grove (27-5). Trailing 1-0 after the first inning, the team gave up five hits and two errors for five runs in the bottom of the second inning.
A throwing error from Pleasant Grove's shortstop and a bunt for hit placed Tyler Herson and Cameron Hanna on the bags for Abilene Wylie before the Hawks turned a 2-5 putout to preserve a one-run deficit.
Starting pitcher Joe Pearlman notched a strikeout swinging against Abilene Wylie's nine-hole hitter immediately afterward to give Pleasant Grove hope of getting out of the inning unscathed.
However, Zach Smith came up a second time in the game and dropped a shot into right field for an RBI. Lane Bourland dropped a ball into left field two pitches later for a 3-0 advantage.
Mack Mueller doubled to right-center field the next at-bat for another run and -- when Pleasant Grove finally got a playable ball off the bat of cleanup hitter John Tople -- a throwing error from the shortstop beyond first base for the force out rolled into foul territory to allow two more runs home for a 6-0 lead.
Pearlman got taken off the mound to tend to shortstop the rest of the day, although Fincher said it had more to do with the pitching situation than the two errors at short.
Reliever Will Hlavinka came in and allowed one run through 3 1/3 innings of work. Caleb Bolden pitched the sixth inning.
"You look at the second inning, a few costly errors against an outstanding team with so many seniors, they took every opportunity," Fincher said. "But I don't want to take anything away from them. I can't say enough about about our guys fighting and clawing. They believed from the first inning on that we were going to come out with this."
Abilene Wylie pitcher Connor Carlton compounded problems. He was as athletic as a shortstop on defense with eight assists for outs plus two pickoffs during the contest.
Carlton also struck out three Hawks batters while walking six and allowing three hits through five innings toward a complete game win. Pleasant Grove recorded four hits in the sixth and one in the seventh as it pushed back.
The Hawks began to cut into Abilene Wylie's six-run advantage in the top of the third. A throwing error at shortstop allowed Hlavinka's courtesy runner, Nathan Brinkley, and VaShon Williams to roll in for scores.
Down 7-2, after Abilene Wylie's Bryce Gist drove a bases loaded sacrifice fly to the right field warning track in the fourth, things really began to sizzle for Pleasant Grove in the sixth.
A.J. Snyder and Heath Ferguson lined hits through the infield gaps with one out. Snyder scored from third base on a passed ball.
Cleanup hitter Carson Cox tripled to the right-center field hole to plate Ferguson and then scored when Jacob Smith hit a two-out shot over second base.
The sixth ended on a fly ball with Smith standing on first base, which kept Abilene Wylie in the lead.
The seventh started on Connor Ouellette's liner through the left infield gap. A pop foul, a fielder's choice that advanced Ouellette to second base and a fly out secured Pleasant Grove's first and final loss of the postseason.
Abilene Wylie's Smith drew a leadoff walk in the first inning and came home on a sacrifice fly to account for all scoring in the game.
Pleasant Grove's signature win of the season came just four days ago against Argyle. In that 8-1 win, it knocked out the team that prevented it from reaching nine state tournaments in nine years.
It will take a lot of work to get back to the level, but Hawks fans wheeled out of Austin confident the team once again has the wherewithal to make it eight state tournaments in 10 years and, thanks to the 2016 team, two times in two years.
"I can't say enough about the seniors," Fincher said on the cusp of giving into the finality of the situation. "Joe Pearlman, four-year starter. Jacob Smith, three-year starter. A.J. Snyder, three-year starter. Mark Ashby, two years. VaShon Williams, first-year starter for us but -- Man, they poured their heart and soul into it. This program.
"That's why it stings so much. Not for me. I'll be the coach here for a while. But those kids don't have another opportunity to put that Hawks on across their chest. That's what hurts the most. You're really feeling for those kids right now."
Abilene Wylie 7, Pleasant Grove 5
Class 4A State Semifinal
At UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Austin
Pleasant Grove 002 003 0 -- 5 8 3
Abl. Wylie 150 100 X -- 7 8 1
Pitchers and catchers
- Pleasant Grove: Joe Pearlman, Will Hlavinka (2), Caleb Baden (6) and Mark Ashby
- Abl. Wylie: Connor Calton and Lane Bourland
WP -- Connor Carlton (11-1)
LP -- Joe Pearlman (6-1)
- Abl Wylie: Mack Mueller
- Pleasant Grove: Connor Cox