By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
It isn’t too often where a crosstown rivalry game can be outshined by another sporting event taking place hundreds of miles south of McKinney, but Friday night at Al Alford Field certainly fit that bill.
While the McKinney Boyd Broncos were looking to take both games this week from the McKinney Lions on the baseball diamond, attention in the stands early in the contest turned to Round Rock for the exciting conclusion of the regional semifinal boys soccer match between the McKinney Lions and Kingwood. Hours earlier Boyd had advanced to the regional final, meaning a Lions win would pit the two crosstown rivals against one another for region champion.
Despite a strong pitching matchup between the Broncos’ Tyler Keegan and Lions starter Brad Vassar, the undivided attention from the crowd didn’t come until the large crowd at the stadium learned of the Lions’ 3-2 shootout loss. With the disappointment felt all the way to McKinney, the Lions baseball squad looked to pick up the spirits of their students and fans with a win over Boyd.
After a furious rally by the Broncos in the top of the seventh that came up just short, McKinney topped Boyd 4-2 to improve to 5-5 in District 10-5A and 14-9 overall. Boyd fell to 2-8 in 10-5A and 10-14 overall. The Broncos trail the Lions by three games for the fourth and final playoff spot with five games to play.
“I’m pleased with tonight,” said MHS head coach Jeremy Price. “I don’t know where that game came from the other night, so tonight we did what we had been doing prior to Tuesday night. We pitched well, played solid defense, and got timely hits when we needed to. That is our ‘M.O.’ We are not built to win 10-9 ballgames. We are built to win 4-2 games, so I was glad to see our kids come through.”
Just three nights ago the Lions made five errors defensively, helping Boyd win the first game of the “series” 9-1. But Friday the Lions made just one error, which came in the sixth inning when Vassar’s pick-off throw to first was wide and got away from first baseman Gunnar Lund, allowing Paxton Larson to advance to second.
Vassar, who came into Friday night with a record of 5-3 with a 1.80 ERA, was on his way to a complete game shutout through the first six innings. After his offense built up a 4-0 lead against Keegan and reliever Garrett Taylor, Vassar could be aggressive in the zone and attack the Bronco hitters.
With only two hits going into the seventh inning, freshman designated hitter Brayden Webb got his first varsity hit on a chopper up the middle to lead off the inning. After a Ryan French strikeout and Jake Laster pop-up, the Broncos appeared to be set to leave their sixth runner on base.
However, Lucas Diaz singled to keep the inning alive, and then after a wild pitch advanced both runners up 90 feet, Will Hollis ripped a two-RBI single to cut the lead to 4-2. Boyd’s catcher Tommy Nawa really got the Bronco faithful to buy into the rally effort after the fourth single of the inning put the tying run at first. With Price pacing in the Lions dugout and two relievers warming in the bullpen, there appeared to be a chance that Vassar would not finish the game.
“We had two guys ready, depending on situation and the hitter,” said Price. “We definitely weren’t going to look ahead to tomorrow. We were going to use everything we had. We liked the matchup we had up there at the end, especially with the left-handed hitter on deck. We wanted him to face one more guy and then the on-deck hitter, but if it would have gone past him we would have made a change.”
With right-handed Paxton Larson at the plate and the left-handed Fran DeJesus on deck, the left-hander Vassar got Larson to fly out to center field on the first pitch, ending the Bronco threat and revitalizing the Lion faithful after a tough soccer loss an hour prior.
Vassar picked up his sixth win of the season going the full seven innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out four hitters and walking two. He had allowed just six base runners through the first six innings, with none getting further than second base.
“Brad has really stepped into that role as the No. 1,” said Price. “I use that term loosely because Brett (Gannaway) is doing the same thing for us. If we can get those kinds of outings out of our guys, we will hopefully find enough runs to keep winning us ballgames. Our motto for our pitchers is just to give us a chance, and we did that.”
“The location of my fastball was working tonight,” said Vassar. “I felt pretty good with my off speed, but overall felt pretty good.”
Vassar said it felt great to beat their crosstown rivals, but knows he and his teammates have to look forward and stay focused on these final five games to make the postseason.
“Just to stay focused and win each at-bat,” said Vassar. “If we play together as a team we will be good.”
On the losing end, Boyd head coach Brooke Court has seen his Broncos have a difficult first 10 games to the district season, finishing 2-8 in that span. After scoring 24 runs in the last two wins versus Plano East and McKinney on Tuesday night, the Broncos struggled to get any momentum going offensively until it was too late.
“You can’t wait,” said Court. “We faced a good pitcher but we had just two hits through six innings. He was locating the fastball in and out, and he had his slider going as well, but you can’t wait to have four or five good at bats in the seventh inning. You have to get on him earlier than that.”
In the first 10 games, Boyd has lost two 2-1, eight-inning games, a 3-2 loss on a walk-off double, and Friday night’s 4-2 loss to its crosstown rivals.
“You talk about a hit here or a stop there, we could be 5-4 going into this game, but instead we are sitting at 2-8,” said Court. “We got on a roll in the last two games and then come out here and we aren’t aggressive on pitches in the strike zone.”
Starter Tyler Keegan struggled to find his control in his four and a third innings of work, leaving the game in the fifth with the bases loaded with one out. Keegan allowed three runs and gave up eight hits, but did manage to leave five runners on base.
“It was command and I didn’t think he went up there really throwing the ball,” said Court. “It seemed like he was nursing it up there for some reason. We just didn’t do the little things in the ballgame on the mound or offensively to win tonight.”
The Lions got on the board in the second inning after loading up the bases with just one out. On a full count pitch, Lions’ catcher Dalton Harris was hit on the shoulder, which allowed Lund to score from third to give McKinney a 1-0 advantage. Harris gave a long look at Keegan on the mound before trotting down to first base, appearing non-to pleased at being hit by the pitch.
McKinney would score again in the fourth after Harrison Kinney hit a one out double to reach second base. After a wild pitch advanced him to third, Harris picked up his second RBI of the night on a sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Lions a 2-0 advantage.
Lund would pick up the team’s third run in the fifth, when he would take the four pitch walk off Taylor with the bases loaded to make it 3-0. The fourth run came in the sixth inning, when Harris reached on an error by Laster to start off the inning. After a sacrifice bunt by Garrett Christianson and a Garrett Dodd groundball to the pitcher, Harris was at third base with two outs. Joe Baker would come to the plate and belt an RBI single up the middle, making the score 4-0.
Boyd can’t afford to lose any more games in district play, but after the game Court said the approach from his players wouldn’t change as the season winds down.
“The approach won’t change in these final five games,” said Court. “We have to keep being aggressive with pitches in the zone and keep playing hard. We have been pretty good defensively after the first two district games, and pitching has been off and on.”
For McKinney, the Lions control their own destiny, as they own a three-game lead for the final playoff spot. According to Price, looking ahead to the next game is key in their evenly matched district.
“Just continue to take them one game at a time,” said Price. “This district is so equal across the board with the talent at these programs that you just have to go into every game not looking ahead but focusing on that contest.”
There are just five games remaining in District 10-5A, as both teams return to action Saturday afternoon. McKinney will travel to Plano (7-3) and Boyd will host Plano West (8-2) at Bronco Field. Both games are scheduled for noon.