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By Brian Besch
One of the state’s top teams in Class 4A swept a two-game regional quarterfinal set with Livingston, ending the Lion baseball season.
Orangefield, ranked No. 3 in Texas, won the opening game 12-6 Thursday, then finished with a 12-1 victory Friday night.
The Lions fell behind in the first inning, when a leadoff triple and wild pitch delivered the game’s first run. Two more Bobcats crossed the plate on a ground-rule double with the bases loaded in the third.
Livingston answered in the fourth inning, starting with a single from Damian Ruiz. He stole second base and Josh Smith singled. Vickery brought Ruiz in to score on a single, and Jordan Bush did the same for Smith.
A two-run homer extended the Orangefield lead back to three runs in the fourth, but the Lions again had an answer.
With the bases loaded, Smith was caught leaning too far off the bag at first. A rundown resulted in a Bobcat throwing error and two Lions scored on the play, closing the gap to a 5-4 Orangefield lead.
That would be as close as the game would get. In the bottom half, the Bobcats scored again, then six more times for insurance in the sixth.
Not giving in, Livingston put up two more runs, starting with a Gage Morris double. Ruiz also doubled to allow Morris easy access to the plate, and Smith singled in Ruiz.
“We knew they were going to be tough like that,” Lions coach Jarrad Maddox said. “We just have to bounce back tomorrow and battle, that is all there is to it. They are 27-2 for a reason. We have to throw strikes and we have to hit our spots and we have to score runs. We need to get ahead, and we can’t fight from behind. I told them that we have two more games to win and we have to come back and fight.”
Unfortunately for Livingston, that would not occur.
The second game started well for the Lions. Morris walked and Jordan Huson singled. Ruiz doubled to bring in a run, but the Lions would leave two in scoring position.
Orangefield could not get to starter Kason Nelson until the third inning. With the bases loaded, a bouncer to second base was fielded and thrown home. The ball would stop bouncing at the backstop and two scored. A triple put up two more for a 4-1 lead.
That would be all the Bobcats would need, but they would score more in the fourth, ending any chance. Errors allowed for the floodgates to open, with eight touching home plate for a 12-1 advantage.
The 2022 season will be remembered for the district championship that ended a long drought. The Lions have now reached the regional quarterfinals for the past two years.
“They are very good,” Maddox said of Orangefield. “It happens. It is one of those things that you can’t predict. We believed in ourselves, that is for sure. We have a great team with great kids and our first district championship in 29 years. That is something to be very proud of. We can’t be down. I knew that we were going to have a good team. I believe we were picked to finish second. When you are 19-5, that is one of the best seasons ever here in Livingston.”
Maddox said he was proud of the senior class, which includes Ruiz, Cody Patranella, Mitchell Hathaway and Stephan Scott.
“It is a rare group when you have a player like Damian. It is a good group of kids. They laugh and have fun and enjoy each other’s company. I will never forget it.”
By Brian Besch
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.
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.
By Brian Besch
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.