Hays blanks Del Valle to punch playoff ticket

When the opportunity to officially punch a postseason ticket knocked Friday, Hays High’s baseball team wasted no time in slamming down the door.

A nine-run blitz over the first three frames was enough for Hays (24-7, 10-6) to cruise past the Del Valle Cardinals in a 9-0 win to close the regular season.

The victory, along with a Bowie loss to Westlake, allowed Hays to secure third place in 25-6A, marking the team’s first playoff berth since the 2017 season.

Rebel head coach James Howard said attacking early and getting into the game “with some urgency” was a key attribute.

“They understood what was at stake, they understood the importance of it,” Howard said. “They went out there and did the little things right to get that big lead.”

Big hits in key moments played a role in Hays’ leap to an early 5-0 advantage in the first frame. Highlighting it all was a three-run first inning home run by junior Zane Lilljedahl.

Howard said Lilljedahl, who has had a “tremendous” junior year, set the tone for the Rebel offense.

“Anytime you can get a three-run bomb in the first, that sets the tone for the game,” Howard said. “His hard work is paying off.”

The Rebel offense kept the momentum in the second frame when it added three more runs on three hits, aided by RBI singles from seniors Aidan Martinez and Nate Tate, as well as an RBI sacrifice fly by Lilljedahl. A third inning RBI single from senior Garrison Vaughn brought in the Rebels’ final run.

Hays senior Uli Tovar lauded the top of the Rebel lineup at getting on base, as well as the team’s overall execution at the plate. Martinez said good approaches at the plate, as well as “making things happen,” spurred that success.

“That’s what happens when you attack the ball. Coach Howard always talks about attacking the game,” Martinez said. “Us doing that today, it got us the hot start and we were able to hold on.”

Armed with a sizeable cushion, Rebel arms kept Del Valle’s offense at bay for the entirety of the contest.

Tovar earned the win by giving up no runs on two hits and striking out five batters over the course of three frames. Having the lead to work with provided ample confidence, Tovar said.

Rebel pitchers limited Del Valle to five total hits in the game.

“It helps me concentrate more on the hitters and getting quick outs,” Tovar said.

Capturing a playoff berth was a “big weight off the shoulders,” Howard said. He lauded the team’s 18 seniors who “took care of business.”

It was a marquee moment for Martinez, who said the team had set its goals high when they entered the season.

Hays advances to play New Braunfels Canyon in a best-of-3 bi-district playoff series that starts Thursday at Canyon High. Game 2 of the series is scheduled to be played Friday at 7 p.m. at Hays High’s new baseball field. An if-necessary third game would be played Saturday at 2 p.m. at Hays High.

“We’re excited to go out there and show what we can do. We finally put ourselves out there and do that and show what we’re made of,” Martinez said. “We’re going to be prepared.”

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