By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
MESQUITE — Call it what you may, but Friday night at Copeland Field in Mesquite proved just how frustrating and unpredictable baseball could be.
After Class 4A’s No. 8-ranked McKinney North Bulldogs defeated Mt. Pleasant 6-2 in game one on Thursday night, Bulldogs head coach Jim Gatewood would send junior Julian Pope to the mound in hopes of wrapping up the Bi-district round best-of-three series in short order.
Entering Friday night, Pope was a perfect 8-0 with a sub-one ERA, allowing just nine total runs in 44 innings. Facing a lineup that mustered just four hits off sophomore Gabe Constantine and senior Anthony Herrera the night before, the odds were in the Bulldogs favor as play began on a very chilly night in Mesquite.
However, baseball on paper doesn’t always translate onto baseball in the field. Behind four uncharacteristic errors and a Tigers three-run first inning, Mt. Pleasant forced a deciding game three on Saturday afternoon after defeating the Bulldogs 4-1. Friday night’s loss was just the second of the season for North, as the Bulldogs fell to 25-2.
Game three will begin at 3 p.m. at Copeland Field in Mesquite.
With North serving as the home team, Pope took the mound to face the top of the Tigers order in the top of the first. After Luke Hill led off the game with a seeing-eye single up the middle, Monty James hit a 2-1 pitch back to Pope on a high hop that was screaming to be turned for a double play.
With plenty of time to throw to junior shortstop Montana Sadler covering second base, Pope threw it low and bounced the ball in the turf infield, allowing Hill to slide in safely and put two runners on base.
“I thought that was the key to the game,” said Gatewood. “I felt like we should have turned that double play, and I think had we turned it, the whole game would have turned around.”
After a Michael Kopech walk loaded the bases with one out, Zach Ervin roped the first pitch he saw into right-centerfield. Freshman centerfielder Ty Sawka failed to cut the ball off on the bounce, allowing the ball to roll to the fence. All three runners would score and Ervin would scamper into third with a three-RBI triple, giving the Tigers a quick 3-0 lead.
The lead would hold up for the remainder of the game, as the Bulldogs could only muster one run off four hits. North stranded seven runners on base in the game, including leaving the bases loaded in the second inning.
Mt. Pleasant added a run in the top of the third after loading the bases with no outs. Pope would limit the damage, throwing a 4-6-3 double play ball that allowed the only run of the inning to come across the plate.
North would get its lone run in the bottom of the third after Herrera hit a leadoff double off Mt. Pleasant starter Kopech. After Herrera advanced to third on a JT Stevenson groundout, sophomore Travis Scalf would come up to the plate two batters later and hit a weak ground ball that found the hole between second and first. Herrera would come around to score on the Scalf RBI single, but Kopech would not allow another run to cross the plate.
Kopech went the complete game for the Tigers, walking four and striking out seven Bulldog hitters.
“He has good velocity,” said Gatewood. “He reaches 90 miles per hour with a good slider, but still we have seen guys like that in this league. We usually figure it out but we just didn’t tonight.”
Meanwhile, Pope would pick up his first loss of the season despite pitching a complete game. The junior right-hander allowed three earned runs while walking two and striking out seven.
“I thought he did a good job of keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to make a run,” said Gatewood. “We just didn’t do it tonight.”
The most frustrating part of the night for the Bulldogs had to be the inconsistency in the field, as North committed four errors opposed to none by Mt. Pleasant. After the game, Gatewood said that errors might have been a product of frustration from the lack of production offensively.
“We carried over some of our at-bats to the field and just got a little frustrated,” said Gatewood. “We weren’t locking in on defense like we should.”
North must win the deciding game three on Saturday afternoon to advance to the Class 4A Area round next week. Having equaled the number of regular season losses after Friday night, Gatewood and his players are confident that they can get the job done in game three.
“Good teams don’t lose games back-to-back,” said Gatewood. “That is what we have said since I have been here, so we will bounce back tomorrow and get it done.”
Gatewood said he is leaning towards senior Clayton Trout to start Saturday’s game versus Mt. Pleasant. Follow TSB on Facebook for live updates from the game, as well as all the MISD playoff baseball and softball coverage.
Friday’s District 10-5A & 13-4A Playoff Games:
Sulphur Springs 9 Wylie East 8 (Sulphur Spring leads 1-0, Game 2 Saturday @ 12 p.m.)
Hallsville 13 Royse City 1 (Hallsville leads 1-0, Game 2 Saturday @ 1 p.m.)
Lake Highlands 2 Plano 1 (Series tied 1-1, Game 3 Saturday @ 12 p.m.)
Allen 10 W.T. White 2 (Series tied 1-1, Game 3 Saturday @ 12 p.m.)
Richardson Berkner 1 Plano West 4 (Plano West wins series 2-0)
McKinney 9 Dallas Jesuit 7 (MHS wins series 2-0)
Photos by Kellie Anfosso. Click here for more photos.