The temptation for Dripping Springs Tiger pitcher Johnny Hoyle’s mind to wander was prevalent Friday.
The strains of fun and excitement from the annual Founders Day festival in downtown Dripping Springs emanated to the baseball diamond at Tiger Stadium. In addition, the prospect of prom the next day was also there.
Instead, Hoyle and the Tigers’ minds focused on solidifying a playoff berth, which they accomplished with a 3-0 win over the Medina Valley Panthers on senior night.
“The main focus was to worry about tonight,” Tiger head coach Chris Payne said. “Don’t worry about anything going on in our town or prom night. All that is going to be there when the game is over. We didn’t want (this game) to pass us by and not be successful.”
With the win, Dripping Springs (19-9-1, 9-4 in 26-5A) places itself in the heart of the district playoff race with the season finale taking place Tuesday.
“Once we figured out we were mathematically out of the district championship race, we wanted to make sure we had a playoff spot,” Payne said.
Hoyle laid the foundation for Dripping Springs’ win via a six-inning, 4-hit shutout performance. Over the course of seven innings, Hoyle fanned seven Panther batters while allowing only three walks.
Payne said Hoyle mixed his pitches well, while also adhering to the Tigers’ game plan against Medina Valley, which they crafted after playing them earlier this year. Payne also lauded his defense with helping Hoyle out in the game.
“They got a few infield hits, but they weren’t squaring the ball up,” Hoyle said. “I was getting ahead early in counts.”
With Hoyle in control on the mound, Dripping Springs offense capitalized and found its groove with a three-run third inning.
Payne said the outburst followed the Tigers’ theme of scoring runs “in chunks” this season.
Dripping Springs’ success derived from deciphering Panther starting pitcher Sergio Esqueda, who gave up four hits and three runs over the course of two innings pitched. Only one of Esqueda’s runs was earned.
“We like to have our rally innings. That was one of our rally innings,” Payne said. “For us, sometimes it’s contagious hitting, that’s what we’ve been focusing on. Get a hit and pass it on.”
But Hoyle ran into trouble in the top of the sixth inning when Medina Valley loaded the bases with two outs in the inning.
With the game on the line, Tiger catcher Justin Taylor met Hoyle for a discussion on the mound. Soon after, Hoyle forced a fly-out to end the threat. Tiger pitcher Quin O’Hara pitched an inning of relief for the save.
“He told me to get back to what I was doing earlier in the game,” Hoyle said. “I was starting to rush a little with the guys on base. He told me to relax.”
While much has yet to be decided in the 26-5A playoff chase, Hoyle said the Tigers are starting to hit their stride.
“It’s good to clinch a playoff spot decisively. All cylinders are starting to fire,” Hoyle said. “We have a lot of confidence going into the playoffs.”