For eight innings Tuesday, the Hays Rebels and Lake Travis Cavaliers stared each other down in a scoreless pitching duel.
But a leadoff solo home run in the ninth inning gave Lake Travis the momentum to roll away with a 4-1 win to open the best-of-3 series.
Lake Travis, which struggled to find consistency against Rebel pitching, broke the stalemate by pounding out four runs on four hits in the ninth frame. Cavalier Hunter Salinas opened with a solo home run to right center field that gave Lake Travis a 1-0 lead.
Cavalier bats followed with three more runs on three hits, aided by an RBI double by Gabe Garvens.
Hays, which equally labored to find an offensive rhythm, fought to rally back into contention in the bottom of the ninth.
With a runner on first and two outs, Hays’ Erique Hernandez kept the game going with a base hit up the middle. That was followed by an RBI single from Tristan Peevey, which cut the Cavalier lead to 4-1.
“In the ninth, we kind of had our hearts ripped out of us, playing a good game and they hit a home run and get a couple more runs. But we came back, we were right there, two outs and we start battling back,” Hays catcher Cole Irby said.
But Hays couldn’t secure a hit in the clutch to take advantage of its opportunities, said Rebel head coach James Howard.
The Rebels had baserunners on second and third base in the ninth, but a pop-up fielded by the catcher behind the plate ended the game. Hays left seven runners stranded on the bases in the game.
While the Rebels have several players that don’t have much varsity experience, Howard said they have so far stepped up to “fill some pretty big shoes.”
“We had some opportunities, we just got to learn how to capitalize … These guys have got to learn to find ways to win … great teams find ways to win. We definitely had some opportunites. We just have to take advantage of it.” James Howard, Rebel coach
Hays’ bats also struggled to decipher Lake Travis starting pitcher Landon Ausley, who Howard said was able to use his velocity and mix of pitches to keep Hays off-balance.
While the Rebel offense had some struggles, Hays’ defense and pitching staff thrived against a potent Lake Travis lineup.
Behind the arm of starting pitcher Aidan Martinez and reliever Weston Wolf, Hays limited Lake Travis to only four hits in the first eight innings.
Howard said Martinez is a “bulldog” and was successful in mixing his pitches and hitting his spots, along with his competitive attitude.
Martinez said he followed Irby’s lead behind the plate and received help from the “senior core” of infielders around him.
Doing so allowed Martinez to notch key strikeouts in the second and third innings, forcing Lake Travis to leave runners stranded in scoring position.
“For a sophomore, being able to compete against a team like Lake Travis and to limit them to no runs when he came out in the sixth inning, that’s a quality start,” Howard said.
Hitting the ball hard is priority for Hays as it closes the series with Lake Travis on Friday and Saturday.
“We have to score some runs. I think we can do that with this group of guys,” Martinez said.