Another Chap-ter

Baseball beats Westlake in 12 innings to force decisive Game 3


Davis Kuhn

Swinging for the fences, Ethan Gonzalez knocks a home run over the left-center field fence on Friday against Austin Westlake. That third-innings home run tied the game at four-all, and helped set the stage for the dozen-inning marathon that was to come.

Jackson Posey, Sports Director

A year ago this month, baseball played longtime rival Reagan at North East Sports Park. It was a hard-fought series, with several games going down to the wire, but ultimately the Rangers pulled out the victory in the three-game series. Notably, one of the Rangers’ wins was backdropped by “Sweet Caroline,” played over the loudspeakers before they made a late comeback.

On Friday, baseball lined up at North East Sports Park to play yet another longtime rival, Austin Westlake, in a game that felt eerily reminiscent to its chronological predecessor. Trailing 6–5 in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rangers were on thin ice, but a pitching change gave the stadium MC an opportunity to play one more song: “Sweet Caroline.” The Rangers tied the game on the next at-bat, and ultimately won in 12 innings, 7-6. After a long, hectic night, they secured their spot in a tie-breaking Game 3, set to be played at Dripping Springs at noon on Saturday.

Four hours before it ended, Game 2 began with a sprint, and the teams never looked back. Westlake kicked off the festivities in the first inning with a scoring run that began, to quote Ernest Hemingway, “gradually, then suddenly.”

After nearly reaching base on a dropped third strike, the Chaparrals worked an infield single to the left side and a full-count walk, before a wild pitch advanced both runners. After Smithson Valley pitcher Tim Arguello threw his seventh consecutive ball, catcher Ethan Gonzalez called for a mound visit, but to no avail – Sage Sanders finished the at-bat with a sacrifice grounder to send Nathan Duvall home.

Blake Peterson followed that up by driving home Aiden Bennett from third on a fly ball that dropped into center-right field between Kasen Wells and Wyatt Hansen. But that would be the end of Peterson’s half-inning, as Arguello cut down Major Ritchie on a called third strike low in the zone.

The Rangers began their first offensive frame with a full-count walk, putting Kasen Wells on first base. Wells is a noted speedster, and used that to his full advantage – after drawing multiple pickoff attempts, he successfully stole second base. But what seemed like a routine play went off the rails when the ball sailed over the outstretched glove of Westlake’s second baseman, and center fielder Isaac Wheeler bobbled the exchange, sending the ball behind his back and Wells all the way home.

With their first crooked number on the board, more batters continued the base-reaching trend, with David DeHoyos doubling to the right-center field gap and Zach Gingrich tying up the game by singling him home on a grounder through the right side of the infield.

DeHoyos continued to make his presence known in the top of the second inning, successfully recording putouts on three straight ground balls.

Westlake’s shortstop didn’t get the opportunity to match wits, however, as Cooper Burgess worked a full-count walk. Bryce Wells successfully reached base on a bunt down the right foul line, albeit controversially – the play at first was tight, and was ruled an error on the first baseman. Cade Hansen followed up Bryce’s bunt with a dribbler of his own, loading up the bases with no outs for leadoff hitter Kasen Wells.

But the Chaparrals’ second baseman cleanly fielded a hard line drive from Kasen, then flipped the ball to second for the double play. Arguello then grounded out to first, leaving two runners stranded.

Although both teams had some difficulties converting baserunners to runs early in the game, the Chaparrals managed to mitigate those issues by simply putting a lot of men on base. In the top of the third, they scored two runs, capitalizing on a slow and steady five-batter run: error, walk, single, walk, wild pitch. With two in scoring position, Arguello threw three strikes to end the inning, but the damage was done.

Still, the game continued its yo-yo impression. In the bottom half of the inning, with DeHoyos on second base, Gonzalez launched a moonshot to the parking lot … about 50 feet wide of the left foul pole. But no harm, even if there was foul, because he lifted the very next pitch over the left-center field fence to tie up the game yet again. After throwing two balls to Gingrich, Westlake starter Duvall’s night was done.

Despite two relievers warming up in the bullpen between innings, the Rangers sent Arguello back out for the top of the fourth inning. But he walked the Chaparral’s leadoff hitter on four pitches – his third four-pitch walk of the game – prompting head coach Chad Koehl to stroll out to the mound and rotate the lineup. Arguello moved to right field, MJ Espinoza relieved Wyatt Hansen at first base and Jackson Elizondo – who would’ve been in line to start Game 3 – moved from first base to the mound.

Elizondo made quick work of the Chaparrals, taking matters into his own hands and dispatching them in order on a controversial runners’ interference call, a strikeout and a groundout up the left side. It took him just eight pitches to record those three outs.

Kasen Wells led off the fourth inning for the Rangers, and just like in the first inning, he made it his mission to prove the tried and true mantra that speed kills. After doubling on a dart to left-center field (which fell just short of leaving the fence in the same spot as Gonzalez’s earlier bomb), he narrowly beat out throws on consecutive sacrifice flies, including at home plate, where he was forced to slide around and under the catcher just as the throw came in.

Kasen & Co. may have given the Rangers their first lead, but it didn’t give them any breathing room. In the top of the fifth, Arguello let a single drop in front of him in right field, a throwing error on an attempted double play sent that runner to second and a hard-hit single to right field sent him home. (Gingrich’s throw reached the plate at about the same time as the runner, and the call evoked apparent despair from several players, who immediately dropped down into shocked crouches.) For the third time already, identical scores in consecutive frames left the game tied up, this time at five runs apiece.

In their next go-round at the plate, the Chaparrals nearly hit a four-bagger of their own, but Arguello leapt up and snagged it off the top of the wall in right field. Still, multiple batters reached base, including one on a single as an ambulance honked its horn. The next hitter, Sanders, dropped another single into center field, sending Duvall home to give Westlake their third lead of the night.

In the top of the seventh inning, Koehl pulled Elizondo for Espinoza with one out and two on. Espinoza started out a bit shaky, throwing three straight balls to start his outing, but recovered quickly, inducing a double play to end the inning.

Down one, with their season on the line, the Rangers began battling back. Gonzalez and Espinoza each walked, and a wild pitch put them both in scoring position. Then, with one out and a 3-1 count, Westlake coach JT Blair pulled pitcher Cole Foster and intentionally walked erstwhile batter Cooper Burgess. Then came the sweet melody of yore: “Sweet Caroline, bum-bum-bum.”

With loaded bases and one out, freshman Bryce Wells – a University of Texas commit – strolled to the plate. He’d never hit a postseason RBI before Friday, but who says history has to repeat itself?

On a 2-2 count with one out, he lifted the ball to center field, bringing courtesy runner Gavin Woods home on a sacrifice fly.

With a full count and two outs, Cade Hansen walked, bringing leadoff hitter Kasen Wells to the plate and the crowd to their feet. But he flew out to left field, ending the scoring spree and sending the game to extra innings – where it would live for the next couple of hours.

While there were a few close calls, the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings all passed with minimal offensive output. A large part of that was thanks to Espinoza – the sophomore pitched 5.2 scoreless innings, striking out two and allowing just four batters to reach base en route to earning the win.

“During the season, I’ve been through a lot of adversity (on the field),” Espinoza said after the game. “Sixth, seventh inning, I come in (with) runners on base (and) I just gotta get out of it. I was used to that, I love that.”

Despite a mounting pitch count on a young pitcher coming off another extra-innings performance, Koehl only sent another reliever to the bullpen once during Espinoza’s outing. And eventually, he decided to let him keep pitching.

“They trust me,” Espinoza said of his coaches. “I trust them, they trust me.”

But Espinoza’s success wasn’t just about preventing baserunners; it was about keeping them idle. The Chaparrals managed to get just one runner in scoring position in extra innings; the Rangers, by comparison, managed three, including one which was far more consequential than the others.

About 13 hours before Game 3’s scheduled start time, Kasen Wells hit a one-out, stand-up double to the left-center field gap. Arguello flew out to left field, though, leading many fans to begin steeling themselves for a 13th inning.

It wasn’t necessary.

DeHoyos drove a single up the middle of the field, and Kasen turned on the burners one final time, sliding home to secure what the Rangers so badly wanted to achieve some four hours earlier: one more game.

“It’s greatness, man,” Elizondo said of how he felt after the game. “Just getting out, going home. Game 3 tomorrow, ready to take a W.”