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Big Sandy ends 2022 as bi-district champs

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The Big Sandy Wildcats end the 2022 season as bi-district champions.The Big Sandy Wildcats end the 2022 season as bi-district champions.

By Brian Besch
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The Big Sandy baseball season ended Friday night versus what many consider the best team in Class 2A baseball. Shiner is ranked No. 1 in the state and has yet to lose a game this year. They defeated the Wildcats 10-0.

“They are legit; I expect them to make a deep run,” Big Sandy coach Blake Brown said. “They haven’t lost a game all season for a reason. That arm they had against us on Friday (Ryan Peterson), he was good. He did a great job against us and we struck out the most we had all season.”

The Wildcats collected only one hit in the game and struck out 14 times in just five innings.

The coach said he didn’t know what to expect coming into the 2022 season. There were some growing pains that came along with replacing three starters and five seniors from the previous year.

“I felt like the seniors that we had stepped up and the underclassmen all stepped up, really,” Brown said. “Having Adrian Thompson really solidified our defense.”

Thompson has been selected as the District 25-2A defensive MVP. He was able to play through all of the district schedule without an error and was a unanimous vote.

“Probably the most improved player in the district overall was Ethan Murphy. The kid was a standout at the plate. He batted over .500 for the year and .649 in district. He came on and nobody could get him out. He was the District 25-2A offensive MVP.”

The ‘Cats began the season with a tough non-district slate that would prepare them for district. 

“We dropped a couple of games that we shouldn’t have dropped early. We were still trying to figure out our identity as a team where some of these new pieces were going to slot in. We didn’t have the basketball guys in yet and some of the guys that would be key players for us.

“That third tournament, we played over at (Little Cypress-Mauriceville). In the first game, we got absolutely blown out by LC-M. The second game, we went to West Orange and beat West Orange. The third game, we had Hemphill at LC-M and we’re down 5-3 and ended up coming back and winning that game 6-5. That game kind of propelled us into district. It was a big win for us and we got on a roll there all the way until Evadale.”

Brown said his kids were motivated in the Hemphill game, playing against former coach Jeff Ashen’s team.

A large senior group contributed to the success of 2022. Seven in all will graduate Big Sandy High School.

“Adrian is a great kid and he is talking about wanting to go to the University of Oklahoma. Adrian is going to outwork everybody else. You can ask Coach Foster about him in basketball, he’ll just out-compete people.

“Ethan Murphy is a hard-working kid and not a better athlete than anybody, but the kid gives 100% down the baseline. He helped his team out a lot and was a great example for the underclassmen this year. Whenever I first started, Ethan was playing third base and we moved him to the outfield and he progressed out there really quickly. His bat never came along until this season. Him doing a 180 at the plate has been really impressive and he has worked so hard. I expect him to do really big things in college.”

Brown said Murphy and Trace Flores would be headed to Tarleton State.

“Trace has done everything I’ve asked of him the last few years. He played out of position for two years at catcher because we didn’t have anybody else. This year, we were able to move him back to his natural position and he really excelled at the plate and at second base. He was first-team all-district infielder this year.

“Kainey Alec is another one of those kids that developed over three years. He turned into a true ace for us. His ERA in district this year was a 0.396. He was a first-team all-district pitcher and the kid was just absolutely phenomenal in every game he threw this year. It’s going to hurt losing him for sure.

“Milton Hoffman ended up with first-team all-district outfield. He played out of position all year this year and is a natural first baseman. He played in the outfield and excelled. I think he had over a .400 batting average and wherever you put him, he is going to do his best.

“Brayden Young is another pitcher and first-team all-district as a utility player. He was our plug-and-play guy. Depending on whoever was on the bump was where Brayden was going to play. He literally played every position other than catcher this year. Losing a guy like that is going to hurt on the 2A level. He was above average in everything he did.

“Early in the season, Kaden Glover played quite a bit. He is the best teammate any of these guys could ask for. He is always doing everything that nobody else wants to do. He is a kid that would come in and run the bases for his teammates whenever they would get on base. I’ve had Kaden for three years, and to see his progress has been great.”

However, those are not the only losses. Brown will move on to an administrative position at Dayton ISD, meaning the Wildcats will have a new head coach next season. His assistant, Keegan Turner, has taken a job outside of education. 

The coach feels that the district will be competitive once more in 2023, as West Hardin will be tough with many returning starters next year. Evadale returns District MVP Jackson Sylvester and he also thinks Deweyville will compete well.

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Livingston signings

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livingston siging day with family

Brandon Lyons (middle) is the son of Sheriff Byron and Sylvia Lyons. He has signed with Lamar University to participate in track & field, with plans to study marketing. Lyons also played two years of varsity basketball. He ran the 200 and 400 meters in track. At Lamar, he will compete in the the long jump and high jump, where he advanced to the regional meet his junior and senior year. Ja’Nayah Pickens, (left) the daughter of Brandon and Le’Shauna Pickens, has signed to further her tennis career at Delaware State University. She is the district’s girls singles champion for the past two years and advanced to the regional tournament this year. The Lady Lions were district champions in 2021 and 2022. Away from the court, Pickens is in the top 10% of her class, a co-captain and All-American on the cheerleading squad, a member of the National Honor Society, and was runner-up in the 2022 Miss Polk County Pageant. Marlinda Dunham (right) has signed to participate in soccer at Dallas College. Dunham played goalie for two years, named first team all-district her senior year. She played volleyball for the Lady Lions in three seasons. During her freshman and sophomore years, she played basketball, and advanced to the regional meet in powerlifting. She plans to major in criminal justice and forensic science. 

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Lions advance with another one-run win

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The Lions will advance to the regional quarterfinals. Photo by Brian BeschThe Lions will advance to the regional quarterfinals. Photo by Brian Besch

By Brian Besch
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Lion baseball is giving fans their money’s worth in the playoffs, coming out on top of a 1-0 nailbiter Friday over the Tigers from Sealy in the area round.

The Livingston bats could not get going until the fourth inning, when Jordan Huson and Damian Ruiz started with a pair of singles and no one out. However, Sealy escaped from the inning unscathed, ending it on a double play.

“It is the small things. We made a few mistakes on the bases, but that was a great team over there,” Lion coach Jarrad Maddox said. “They got second place in their district. It is going to be tough like that all the way through, so we have to be prepared. I knew they would fight. They know how to compete; they are tough as nails and a blue-collar town.”

In the fifth, Livingston again threatened, as J.T. Smith singled and advanced a base when a pickoff bounced beyond the bag at first. Tay McNeal then slugged a single that was enough to bring in Smith ahead of a throw home, giving the Lions the only run of the game.

Ruiz was brilliant on the mound, allowing just a few baserunners. The only threat occurred when Sealy had a runner go from first to third on a ball hit to the wall in left. Smith made a good throw from the warning track to keep the Tigers scoreless.

“I knew they were very fundamental and they could hit the ball,” Ruiz said. “I trust my team enough to throw in the strike zone. I trust them to make plays like they did tonight. Coach told me to fill up the zone and force them to get hits.”

Ruiz said he felt more relaxed on the mound this week. Part of that, he said, was a more comfortable pair of shoes that he was able to wear on the playing surface at Cypress Woods High School.

In the top of the seventh with one out, a throw from an infielder got past first baseman Cody Patranella and the baserunner made the turn for second. Lion catcher Huson was backing up the play and threw the runner out at second from just in front of the visiting dugout.

The final out came on a pop fly to left field that Smith squeezed for a Livingston victory.

“That is too close for comfort right there,” Maddox said. “Every time you get in the playoffs, it is going to be tough. You’ve got to scrap all the way through. Hopefully, it is not like that next round.”

It is the second week in a row that the Lions have won a low-scoring, one-run contest. They had a come-from-behind triumph last week versus Vidor in a 3-2 game.

As of press time, the next round’s opponent was yet to be decided, but Orangefield run-ruled Navasota in the opening game of a best-of-three series.

“Orangefield has pitching and they are sound like them (Sealy), so it is going to be tough,” Maddox said.

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Getting it done in last at-bat

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Lion pitcher Damian Ruiz tossed seven innings of two-run baseball to pick up the win.Lion pitcher Damian Ruiz tossed seven innings of two-run baseball to pick up the win.

By  Brian Besch

The final inning provided drama and a game-winning hit in Livingston’s Friday night bi-district matchup, as the Lions escaped with a 3-2 victory over Vidor.

With the contest tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh, Vidor took the lead and momentum, starting with a walk and sacrifice bunt. A double brought in the go-ahead run for a 2-1 advantage.

With the bottom of the lineup due in the Lions’ final opportunity, Livingston coach Jarrad Maddox opted for a pinch-hitter. Sophomore Copeland Bush got the call and reached base with an infield single.

Copeland Bush would soon advance on a wild pitch. Jordan Bush took a base on balls and another wild pitch would put both into scoring position with no one out. Tay McNeal was hit by a pitch to load the bases and bring up Gage Morris.

The junior had a good night at the plate, getting Livingston started in the first inning, but his final at-bat will be the one he remembers.

“I was up there and the umpire called the first one high and I didn’t like it,” Morris said. “On the second one, I was kind of chancing it. I had seen curveballs and was looking for a fastball. He threw me that curveball again and I just had to put it in play – just hit it somewhere in play and we have got to score just one. It was right over the second baseman’s head and I knew right then the game was over. I was like, ‘This is it; we are going to the next round.’

The shortstop described the celebration with his teammates at second base.

“I got jumped on, but man, it was great. It felt good. There is a first time for everything and that is my first walk-off hit. That is probably the biggest hit of my life. I was up there excited and nervous at the same time and was like, ‘Just hit it in play,’ and I got it done.”

The Texas Leaguer was a few feet out of the reach of the Pirate second baseman, allowing two to score and setting off the Livingston festivities.

“I knew Vidor had a couple of really good arms. I was very confident in Damian and his ability,” Maddox said. “I just had a hunch and went with Copeland Bush to pinch hit to get on base and use his athletic ability to lead off. It only takes one and we got it.

“Vidor has been hot in the second half of the season; they were the hottest team in their district. They won the most games in their district in the second half of the season. They snuck in and played hot and I knew it was going to be a tough series.”

Those who reached Crosby after the game started likely missed most of the offense until the end of the game. The Pirates put a run on the board in the first frame with a runner on, as a double that bounced to the wall made it 1-0.

Livingston answered in the bottom half of the inning, as the leadoff hitter Morris doubled. A sacrifice grounder by Jordan Huson pushed the runner to third and a single from Josh Smith made it a tie game.

Barring an upset, the next opponent will be the Sealy Tigers. They were second-place finishers of District 24-4A, two games behind champion Bellville.

“We will move on and we are probably playing Sealy,” the coach said.

“We will see where it goes from there. I know that they are very athletic. They don’t have the arms that Vidor does, but they are athletic and it’s going to be another tough matchup.”

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Lady Cats end season bi-district finalists

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Lauryn Hoffman awaits the relay from right field.Lauryn Hoffman awaits the relay from right field.

By Brian Besch
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The Big Sandy softball season ended Friday in the bi-district round of the UIL playoffs, on the wrong end of a 17-0 final versus Woden.

The Lady Eagles wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, putting up two runs in the first. Walks were an early problem for Big Sandy, as four in the inning loaded the bags. A bunt single brought in the first run, while a sacrifice fly scored the next.

Wild pitches, passed balls and a few errors allowed for six more runs in the second, effectively ending the competition.

“We knew coming into it that this team was the real deal,” Big Sandy coach Mark Young said. “They were tied for first in district up until the last game and wound up getting second (to West Sabine), losing 2-1. We knew their pitching was really good and that was proven here today. They are one of those teams that capitalizes on every opportunity. We lost a couple of players to this, that and the other, which really hurt us. I hope that those players see that and see what it did to this team. I hope we can come back stronger.”

The Lady Cats had their best stretch near the end of the contest, holding Woden to just one run in the bottom of the fourth. In the top of the fifth, Lauryn Hoffman reached with an infield single and Madison Gardner pushed her over with a fielder’s choice. Hoffman then stole third and Anastasia Chitty walked.

This year’s seniors include Dallas Holder, Chloe Cox, Michaela McGallion, Olivia Laird, Taylor Weatherford and Madison Gardner.

“We had a really good group of seniors, with not a whole lot of experience in that group,” Young said. “It is just one of those groups that responds to coaching and is willing teach the younger kids and help them out. They have good attitudes and will do anything that I say. That is just fun to coach. I have a few younger ones that are coming up, but those are going to be tough spots to fill. In the outfield, I’m losing three. It was a struggle just to make it here. We had to beat out Evadale the second time we played them. We wound up doing that and playing well, and that is a testament to them.”

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