This season, the Plano Senior and Keller baseball teams have played 16.5 innings without any clear victor.
The Wildcats assured that figure didn’t reach 17 Thursday night, rallying in the seventh inning for a 3-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 bi-district series against the Indians.
“We know that you don’t into games like this thinking you’re going to run-rule anybody,” said Rick Robertson, Plano head coach. “We knew this would be a tough game. Keller’s in a great district and they’re here, so you know they’re a good team.”
Just one year removed from sweeping Hebron, the 2011 District 8-5A No. 1 seed, in bi-district play, the Indians looked to have another 8-5A top draw on the ropes.
Juniors Michael Crawford and Ryan Thomas would have none of it, with the former opening the seventh inning with a double that split the center-right field gap and Thomas, the only Wildcat to boast multiple hits Thursday, following suit with a double of his own to the same gap — this one in walk-off form, scoring Crawford for the game-winning run.
“I was just waiting for a pitch to hit,” Thomas said. “I saw one down low which lefties like, so I just put a good swing on it. Michael Crawford came through big for us too, getting on second for me to knock him in.”
The duo’s extra-base hits capped a late surge by the Wildcats, who recorded four of their six hits over the final two innings after spending the bulk of the evening at the mercy of Keller pitcher Garrett Grim.
But with 113 pitches under his belt through six innings, Grim at last succumbed to the Wildcat bats.
“[Grim] had a lot of pitches in him,” Robertson said. “He was around 120 and that was one of our game plans. We know he throws hard, so we emphasized having good at-bats and taking them deep in counts.”
Plano had chances to make Grim pay throughout the night, most notably by loading the bases up in the third and sixth innings. The Indians’ hurler didn’t balk though, unraveling any jam that presented itself while Plano left seven runners stranded in scoring position on the night.
“We squandered a lot of opportunities,” Robertson said. “Maybe that was us, but probably a lot of it was their guy on the mound. He came up with some big pitches but I was happy for us to pull this one out.”
The sixth-inning jam would have been a timely counter to the half-inning prior, when the Indians tied the game at 2-2. Zacharias Hardy led the frame off with a double into deep left field off senior Connor Reed and two batters later, was plated on an RBI single by Chase Lee.
Keller had been playing catch-up for the majority of the night, only possessing a lead at 1-0 in the first inning after Hardy knocked home Cameron Bonifant with an RBI single.
The advantage wouldn’t last long, with Grim opening on an uncharacteristically shaky note, tossing eight consecutive balls to start that put senior Matt McLean and sophomore Ryan Robertson on base.
With each moving up a bag on a wild pitch, McLean would tie the game at 1-1 following a groundout by senior Justin Arrington. Crawford would follow with a sacrifice fly that scored Robertson and give Plano a 2-1 lead.
The ensuing quartet of scoreless innings would be turned over to both Grim and Reed, who allowed neither opposing offense to gain any traction.
In victory, Reed tossed a complete game, allowing two runs of six hits while striking out six and walking two.
Grim countered by admitting three runs on six hits to complement four strikeouts and five walks — limiting the Wildcats to just two hits through five innings through the late outburst.
“We just kept on battling at the plate and everyone stayed focused throughout the game,” Thomas said.
The win puts Plano in position for a series sweep Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Lewisville. Should the Indians knot the count at 1-1, the deciding game will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lewisville.