Resiliency and mental toughness were attributes the Hays Rebels baseball team needed to outlast the New Braunfels Canyon Cougars in a thrilling best-of-3 bi-district round series.
That included playing 16 combined innings of baseball over a five-hour span Saturday, culminating in Hays notching a series-clinching 8-5 victory over Canyon in Game 3.
“Just a lot of heart and determination,” Hays head coach James Howard said about the wins. “I think it’s a team that expected to win. They knew after game one that they could definitely beat Canyon. I just felt like it was a team that was determined that they were going to get that win.”
In Game 1, Hays received a stellar pitching performance by Jeremy Copeland and Garrison Vaughn, who gave up two hits to the Cougars. Game 2 didn’t go quite as easy for Hays as it trailed 5-0 in the fourth inning. But Hays clawed its way back and tied it up at 5-5 in the bottom of the sixth after an infield single by senior Chase Ruston forced a Canyon throwing error that scored two runs.
“You know we dug ourselves into a hole early in that second game,” Howard said. “They showed a lot of heart just to come back in that game and compete and tie it up and take it to extra innings.”
Canyon took the 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth on a bloop single to left field by Austin Stracener. Hays got two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, but the game ended with a hidden ball trick on a fake pickoff miscue performed by the Cougars pitcher Cody Leal, which forced a third and deciding contest.
Howard, who sensed the team’s disappointment following the Game 2 loss, challenged his players with flipping their attitude in the face of adversity.
“Instead of being negative and being bad about that one, you’ve got to flush it and turn your attention to this one,” Howard said. “Go out there and win a game.”
The Rebels practiced what Howard preached when they scored eight runs on eight hits in the third game, which included an RBI triple by Ruston, and RBI singles by Vaughn, Seth Stephenson and Lane Lilljedahl.
Howard said Rebel bats have been the team’s “strong point all year.”
“We’ve got some guys that compete at the plate. I think we’ve been shut out one time all year and that was by Lake Travis late in the year,” Howard said. “Other than that these guys get up there and they are not going to get cheated with their swings.”
Pitching depth was also a critical factor for Hays in the series. The Rebels deployed a total of five pitchers on Saturday. While the Cougars arms began to fade, the Rebels trotted out fresh arms from their bullpen. Howard credits Copeland’s and Vaughn’s performances in Game 1 for allowing the team to have the depth for Saturday’s games.
Sophomore pitcher Ellis Taylor, who was called up from the JV squad late in the season, was an unlikely hero when he provided the Rebels with three scoreless innings in the final three frames of Game 3. Taylor was the only Hays pitcher who didn’t surrender a run Saturday.
“He (Taylor) got his opportunity in this one and came through huge for us,” Howard said. “Very proud of that young man, and just being a sophomore he’s got a lot of promise.”
Hays moves on to play San Antonio Reagan, currently ranked 2nd in Class 6A, in a best-of-3 area round matchup that begins at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. Game 2 will be Friday, 7:30 p.m. and an if-necessary Game 3 is Saturday at noon. All games will be played at North East Sports Park in San Antonio and all game times are weather permitting.