ROYSE CITY – In a series where both teams earned one-run victories to force a winner-take-all contest, it was hardly a surprise that Game 3 came down to the final inning as well.
The Harmony Eagles and the Van Alstyne Panthers traded runs almost every half inning from the fourth on and it was the Eagles who held a one-run lead with six outs to go.
But the Panthers were able to rally for a pair of runs in the bottom of the six and Van Alstyne held on to eliminate Harmony, 6-5, in the deciding game of the Class 3A Region II final series on Saturday night.
It was the best season for the Eagles (30-9) since they made it to state in 2003. Van Alstyne (29-6) heads to Dell Diamond on Round Rock for the second time in four years and will play in a semifinal at 9 a.m. or noon on Friday. Kirbyville, Blanco and Wall are the other state qualifiers.
The Eagles got the tying run in scoring position in the top of the seventh. Evan Patterson walked to open the inning and Van Alstyne turned to Chandler David, the Game 2 starter, for the final three outs. Hunter McNeel bunted but it was right back to David, who got the force at second. Another groundout to the pitcher moved the runner to second but David induced a chopper to third to secure the victory.
The Panthers quickly got in position to at least tie the game in the bottom of the sixth when Zach Smith singled up the middle and Nathan Cuthbertson walked. Gage Goddard, the Game 1 starter, came on in relief and got an out – but it was a sacrifice by David Terrill that moved the runners up.
After a strikeout, Conner Loftice hit a high, slow chopper to the right side that got over Goddard’s head and allowed him to reach. Smith scored to even the game at five.
The two-out rally continued as Tyler Wilson singled to right center to put the Panthers back in front. Pinch-hitter Cade Morgan walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases before Rhett Gallagher lined back to Collan Hays to end the inning.
In the sixth inning the Eagles took the lead for the first time and did it with two outs. Cameron Helpenstill was hit by a pitch with one out and nearly doubled off to end the inning when Kyle Henry popped up a bunt back to Smith, who opened the inning on the mound. The safe call at first kept the frame alive and Drew McNeel followed with a walk.
Easton Blackstone singled to tie the game and David let the ball get past him as Drew McNeel came all the way around as the Eagles jumped ahead 5-4.
Harmony put the tying runs on base with one-out walks by Blackstone and Goddard in the fifth and Van Alstyne made a pitching change, substituting Samuel Tormos, the Game 1 starter, for Gallagher, who allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits with three strikeouts and three walks in his 4.1 innings of work.
Tormos got a strikeout before a balk pushed the tying run into scoring position and that allowed courtesy runner Blayze Phillips to score on a wild pitch and get the Eagles within a run.
In the fourth, Van Alstyne became the first team to put up a crooked number as it took a 4-2 lead. Smith singled, went to second on a sacrifice and Terrill followed with a walk. With two outs, Loftice had an RBI single to left and Kyle Henry let it get past him as another run came home.
The back-and-forth middle innings continued as Harmony tied the game at two. Trent Hart walked, Patterson singled and they moved up on a groundout. Hays reached on an error which tied the game at two and the Eagles had runners at the corners. But Gallagher got a strikeout and a foulout to the catcher to escape further damage.
The Panthers wasted little time reclaiming the lead after the Eagles pulled even in the top of the third. Wilson led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, was sacrificed to second and took third on a groundout. Tormos hit a high chopper to third to give Van Alstyne a 2-1 advantage.
Harmony almost wasted a leadoff triple to right center by Helpenstill in the third. Gallagher got a strikeout and Helpenstill had to hold on a grounder to short. But Blackstone lined a single the other way to left to tie the game at one.
Van Alstyne took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Tormos’ RBI double to right center. Wilson opened the inning with a walk and Alex Rivera singled before a flyout. Tormos’ extra-base hit was just out of the reach of Helpenstill’s dive, forcing Rivera to wait and ultimately hold up at third.
That turned out to be a crucial play because Smith followed with a grounder to short and Drew McNeel came home to get Rivera for the second out. Another groundout kept the Panthers’ advantage to just one run.