Three insurance runs in the sixth inning proved to be crucial as Providence Christian held on for dear life to beat T.R. Miller 8-6 in the quarterfinal series of the Class 3A state baseball playoffs on Saturday.
With the Eagles leading 8-2 going to the final inning on the PCS campus, the top-ranked Tigers rallied for four runs and had the bases loaded with two outs before relief pitcher Jake Smith got a fly out to shallow left field to end the game.
Providence (24-11), ranked No. 9 in the state, will host a best-of-three semifinal series against Bayside Academy starting Friday with a doubleheader.
T.R. Miller ends its season at 30-3.
The Eagles earned the chance to play the deciding game Saturday after winning the second game of a doubleheader 10-6 Friday night after losing the opener 5-3.
On Saturday, Providence fell behind 2-0 in the second inning before scoring the next five runs to take a three-run lead into the bottom of the sixth inning in what would prove to be big for the Eagles’ offense.
Win Brock was hit by a pitch to open the frame, Smith walked and Clark Crowder dropped down a sacrifice bunt to put runners at second and third with one out.
Abe Chancellor then hit a bouncer to the pitcher, whose throw to the plate was late as Brock scored to make it 6-2. Chapel Stickler was inserted as courtesy runner for Chancellor and stole second base to put runners at second and third.
Reed Linder then walked to load the bases with one out before Harrison Mims lined out to first base for the second out.
Matthew Morris then got in an 0-2 hole, fouled several more pitches off, and then ripped a single up the middle to score two huge insurance runs in making it 8-2.
“I don’t think anybody could tell how big they (insurance runs) were at the time, but you never want to stop, especially against a good team like T.R. Miller,” Providence coach Casey Smith said.
Some shaky defense and pitching in the top of the seventh allowed T.R. Miller to get right back in it.
Two infield errors put runners at first and third with one out before Kyle Blevins drove in a run with a single to right field to make it 8-3.
A single by Broox Hart loaded the bases before Chancellor, the Eagles’ starting pitcher, got a fly out just beyond third base that Frank Wells made a nice play on for the second out.
Wyn Brittain kept the Tigers’ hopes alive when he singled in another run to cut the lead in half. Miller Hart then walked with the bases loaded to make it 8-5 and Smith was brought in to pitch in relief of Chancellor.
Smith walked the first batter he faced, Jaxson Flores, to make it an 8-6 lead with the bases still loaded before Smith got a fly out off the bat of Bracken Pettis to end the game.
Chancellor, a senior, was outstanding on the mound before running out of gas a bit in the seventh inning. He scattered six hits, struck out eight and walked three in 6 2/3 innings of work.
“We had him as a starter earlier in the year and he had a little arm trouble and took some time off (from pitching),” Casey Smith said. “The fact that he was throwing in the seventh inning was really amazing. He really stepped up. He did what seniors do on good teams.”
Down 2-0, Providence scored three runs after two were out in the third inning to take a lead it would never relinquish.
Chancellor reached on a two-out bunt as he dove into first base to beat the throw on a close play. Linder and Mims both walked to load the bases.
Morris then drew a walk to bring in a run before Matt Dave Snell sent a single between shortstop and third base on a full count to bring in two more runs for a 3-2 lead.
The Eagles plated two more runs in the fifth.
Linder led off with a ground rule double that bounced over the center field fence. Mims laid down a two-strike bunt that was fielded by the pitcher but thrown past first, allowing Linder to score.
Morris then moved Mims over to third with a sacrifice bunt and Snell hit a harder grounder that went off the pitcher’s glove to bring in Mims for a 5-2 advantage.
“Our guys like to play small-ball, they like to run bases,” Casey Smith said. “They’re proud of that and that’s kind of what we’re known for.
“Some people look down on that and don’t want to do that – they want to be home run hitters. Our guys embrace it (small ball) big time. It helped us win the ball game today for sure.”
After scoring three in the sixth the Eagles looked in total command before the Tigers mounted the final rally to make it close.
Smith believes his team may be hitting its stride at the right time.
“We’ve been playing really good baseball probably the last 18 to 20 games,” Smith said. “This is a brand new team with last year getting cut so short. There was one guy on the team from two years ago that got to play, so it just took a little while for these guys to figure out who we are and how to do it.
“It took me a little while to figure it out and put the pieces together. I think we’re coming together.”