WOODLAWN — The Woodlawn baseball team put its fans through a roller coaster of emotions during Saturday’s 2A baseball state quarterfinal game.
The ride started with a nice steady climb to a great view but was followed by gut-wrenching drops and turns that passengers likely thought would never end. But thanks in large part to Taylor Stitt, the Bears made sure the ride ended in a nice, calm manner.
Woodlawn took a 10-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth but a big comeback by Palestine-Wheatley forced the Bears to hang on for a 13-8 win at Woodlawn High School.
“There for a while I was hoping to get the 10 (run-rule) after five innings,” Bears coach Tommy Richardson said, “but then I was just hoping to get the win.
“It’s amazing how quickly your goals can change.”
Stitt’s stellar relief appearance was a big reason that second goal was accomplished.
The junior entered the game in relief of Jacob Richardson with Woodlawn (30-5) leading 11-7 in the bottom of the fifth. The Patriots (28-7) had runners at second and third with nobody out and had already plated three runs in the frame.
“I don’t really know what to say about that,” Stitt said when asked about entering in that situation. “I just wanted to come in and throw strikes.
“Hopefully, my defense will help me out.”
A combination of the two helped the Bears advance to Monday’s semifinal round, where they’ll face Junction City, an 8-4 winner over reigning-champion Conway St. Joseph, at 2:30 p.m. at Taylor Field.
Stitt hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, but a diving catch by centerfielder Caleb Holleman registered the first out of the inning as Corbitt Cooper scored from third base.
But the three-run deficit was as close as Palestine-Wheatley would get.
Stitt followed up the sacrifice fly with a pair of caught-looking strikeouts to end the fifth. He started his 1-2-3 sixth with two more knee-buckling backward Ks and worked around the only hit he allowed in the seventh.
Stitt’s pitching certainly had a lot to do with Woodlawn moving within one victory of playing in the state championship game, but the Bears’ 13 runs scored on seven hits sure didn’t hurt.
Ten walks and three hit batsmen helped Woodlawn load the bases with less than two outs in each of the first five innings. The Bears scored in every inning but the sixth. Woodlawn came away with single runs in the first and fifth innings, three runs in the second, two in the third and seventh, and four in the fourth.
“It’s about just keeping pressure on them,” coach Richardson said. “… We did a really good job when we had a man on third and less than two outs of driving the run in.”
Prior to the Junction City-St. Joseph game, Jacob Richardson, who finished 2 for 2 with two HBP and a walk on Saturday, said he’d be happy to face the Dragons on Monday.
“Every time I look forward to it,” the senior said with a laugh. “I actually counted it up a couple days ago. Since I’ve been starting as a freshman, I think we’ve played Junction City 14 times.
“Now they got the best of us most of those times. It’s always a really good game, though, and if they win I’m expecting another one on Monday.”
Well, Junction City did indeed win, so Woodlawn will get a fourth shot at the Dragons after having lost to them in all three matchups this season. History, though, appears to be on the Bears’ side.
In 2011, Junction City lost to Woodlawn three times before beating the Bears in the state tournament. The following year, Woodlawn was 0-3 against Junction City prior to a state-tournament win that helped propel the Bears to their third-straight title during an even-numbered year.
Could 2014 be the fourth consecutive? Jacob Richardson certainly wants it to be.
“Hopefully, history repeats itself.”