The sophomore baseball team put together their best team effort on April 26 in the finale of what was an up-and-down season for the squad, coming away with a 4-4 tie with perennial powerhouse Clements.
Top-notch pitching, timely hitting, solid baserunning and stellar defense vaulted the Cougs to a 4-0 lead through four innings, with Kempner wasting no time taking the lead in their half of the first inning.
Max Lopez opened up the ballgame by drawing a five-pitch walk and then came around to score when Drew Walker advanced all the way to third base on a three-base error by the Rangers pitcher. Colton Green followed with a solidly-struck single to center and, just three batters into the game, the Cougars had plated two runs.
Nathan Jacobson pitched possibly his best outing for Kempner, keeping Clements off the board through four innings. A two-out single with a man on put Rangers at the corners in the bottom of the first as Clements attempted to answer the Cougars’ two-spot in the top of the frame, but Jacobson got a swinging strikeout to leave both runners on base. He plunked the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the second, but that runner was cut down quickly as Sean Torres, Lopez and Brandon Phegley turned a nifty 4-6-3 double play ahead of another Jacobson punchout for a quick 1-2-3 inning. Jacobson, and the Cougar defense kept rolling along over the next two innings, only allowing one baserunner. The gold-star play during those two frames was a highlight-reel worthy sliding grab of a foul pop by catcher Drew Walker, who sped over near the first-base dugout for the putout near the on deck circle.
In the Cougars’ half of the fourth, Phegley got things started by legging out a swinging bunt and then advanced to second on an errant toss by the Clements pitcher. Torres followed with a ground ball to third that scored Phegley – and put Torres on second base – when, again, the Rangers defense couldn’t connect on the throw to first. Jacobson helped his own cause with a one-out single to right, with Torres touching home plate after the ball was misplayed by the rightfielder, making the lead 4-0.
The cracks in the armor began to show in the fifth inning as the Cougar defense allowed two unearned runs to slice the lead in half. With two outs and a runner on first, Luke Geach – on in relief of Jacobson – induced an inning-ending fly ball to left that ended up as a three-base error. Another error on a groundball gave Clements another run – and life in a ballgame that up to that point had been going Kempner’s way.
The Cougs nearly added on an insurance run in the sixth when Ross Reichardt, subbing in for Christian Tapia, singled to center with two outs, then advanced to third on a stolen base followed by a passed ball. But Lopez stroked a lined shot down the third base line that the Rangers third sacker snagged out of the air to end the threat.
Geach struck out the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the sixth, but a single followed by two errors and a walk reduced the lead to just one with only one out and the bases loaded. Coach Swain then summoned Phegley in from centerfield to attempt to stem the tide. He struck out the first batter he faced, but an unfortunate two-out error – one of six defensive miscues on the night for the Cougars – allowed the tying run to score. Phegley did leave the bases full when he got the #2 hitter to pop out to first to end the inning.
Kempner attempted to regain the lead in the top of the seventh when Green reached on an error and made it to third base following a wild pitch and a stolen base. But the Cougs were unable to get the clutch hit to take the lead, so it was up to Phegley and the Cougar defense to keep Clements off the board in the bottom half of the final inning.
Things started inauspiciously when a lazy flyball to right to open the inning turned into a two-base error, giving Clements what appeared like three shots at a walkoff base hit to end the season – with the heart of their order coming up. But that runner was cut down almost immediately when Walker blocked a curveball in the dirt, and then pounced on it when it bounced away from him and made a perfect strike to third to nail the runner who attempted to advance on the wild pitch (video, below).
Following the stellar play by Walker, Phegley took over from there, finishing off the #4 hitter with a strikeout before completely fooling the #5 hitter with two curveballs followed by a fastball that the batter was unable to get around on (video, below), ending the game in a 4-4 tie.