ROUND ROCK, Texas — Carter Hope
took a curious path to game MVP honors.The Woodlands (Texas)
senior pitcher, selected by Kansas City in the third round (82nd overall pick) a day earlier, got off to "about as bad a start as I could'' in the University Interscholastic League Class 5A state championship game.
Twice in the first inning, the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was visited on the mound by coach Ron Eastman with a simple message: "Settle down.''
Hope responded with five innings of hitless, shutout pitching, giving The Woodlands' bats time to turn an early 2-0 deficit into a convincing 9-5 victory over fellow Houston-area finalist Fort Bend Dulles (Sugar Land, Texas)
Saturday afternoon at Dell Diamond.
The Woodlands entered No. 5 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings
and Fort Bend Dulles No. 21.
"I couldn't get my rhythm early,'' said Hope, who finished with a two-hitter. "This being the final game and just being drafted, which is something I've always wanted, that might have been the reason.''
Eastman admitted in a one-game scenario, removing his starting pitcher was a consideration after Hope hit the first batter, walked the second, allowed a two-run single and then another walk.
Hope (11-1) said he knew if he could do his part, a third state title for The Woodlands (38-4) would be secured. Other titles came in 2000 and 2006.
"These guys always give me run support,'' he said.
That trend held true again. Undaunted by a 2-0 deficit, The Woodlands scored four in its half of the first. All four of the Highlanders hits were guided to the right side. Chris Andritsos
and Josh Shaw
drove in runs with singles and Blaine Gillespi
plated two, including the go-ahead run, with his hit.
Twice in the inning, Dulles right fielder Eric Johnson overshot his cutoff man on throws to the plate, allowing a Highlander to advance to second and in each case the mistake turned into a run.
The Highlanders broke it open with another four-run eruption in the third, doing all the damage with two out.
After Dulles starter Nick Hernandez
(5-1) struck out the first two hitters of the inning, seven straight Highlanders reached. Left fielder Josh Austin got his glove on, but couldn't hold, Kolbi Brown
's RBI double and Shaw followed with an RBI single.
Hernandez gave way to shortstop Caden Williams. An error and two more walks led to the final two runs of the frame as things got a little sloppy for Dulles.
Brown, who won Friday's semifinal with a walk-off homer, delivered the final Highlander run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Hope cruised until the seventh, when two walks were followed by Darryn Sheppard
's three-run home run over the left field wall to reduce The Woodlands' lead to four. Hope finished it off with a pair of strikeouts and a game ending grounder to shortstop.
Dulles (32-8) was making its first state tournament appearance since winning it all in 1989.
"We came out of a tough district and a tough region,'' said Dulles coach Clinton Welch. "I'm proud of my team. The Woodlands found a lot of holes early and we had a tough time squaring the bat up. When we did, it was right at them. That's baseball.''
Hernandez, delivered a two-run, two-out single to center field to stake the Vikings to a 2-0 lead. After the game, he was among the Dulles baseball-playing seniors that went through graduation exercises at Dell Diamond, having missed the regular ceremony back in Sugar Land. The somber ceremony was a contrast to The Woodlands' celebration 20 minutes earlier.
"It's quite a testimony to our guys,'' said The Woodlands' Eastman. "Everybody stuck with the plan and contributed. With Hope and [Ryan] Burnett on the mound, we can play with anybody.''