By Jeff Odom
Wharton baseball coach Scott Hoffman smiled, shrugged his shoulders and tried his best to describe his team’s improbable postseason run coming to a halt at East Lake in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals May 2.
“They battled their butts off, man,” he said. “If you had said we’d be here two weeks ago, you’d be crazy.”
Wildcats (12-15) starting pitcher Tristan DeLuna tossed eight shutout innings, but the Eagles (24-3) found a way to walk-off with a 1-0 win in the 10th.
East Lake’s Tyler Neuhaus walked to open the 10th against Wharton reliever Collin Britch, followed by Cameron Churchill’s single. Both advanced on a double steal to set up Troy Strominger.
With a full count, Strominger hammered a hanging curveball for the game-winning RBI.
“Tonight, they were the better team and the better ballclub in the end,” Hoffman said. “We had some opportunities, and we left like nine or 10 runners in scoring position, and when you strike out as many times as we did you’re not going to win very many games.”
The Wildcats’ first scoring chance came when they loaded the bases with one out in the second inning.
Ryan Lawson singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Mike Gonzalez. Brian Morand reached on an error, followed by East Lake pitcher Ryan Wall walking Milton Figueroa. The Eagles ended the threat when Lawson was tagged at the plate trying to score from third on a fielder’s choice, and Alex Kranick popped out.
Wharton worked out of jam in the third.
DeLuna walked Churchill with one out and allowed Sawyer Wirth to reach on an infield single, but the Eagles ran their way out of the inning as both Churchill and Wirth were nabbed trying to steal third base.
“Definitely got to give tons of props to my defense there,” said DeLuna, who gave up five hits, walked four and struck out 10. “I just wanted to come out here and give it all that I could and just leave everything out on the field.”
The Wildcats loaded the bases again in the fifth when Figueroa singled, Tyler Hathcoat reached on a bunt and Tucker Neuhaus walked, but Wall and reliever Brad Depperman, who came in with two outs, combined to strike out the side.
“We’ve seen a lot of good pitching in our district and (East Lake) was pretty darn good,” Hoffman said. “They kept us off balance.”
Wharton got runners to second in the seventh and eighth, but Depperman continued on his roll by striking out eight of 12 batters and didn’t allow a hit until the 10th, an infield blooper by Kranick, to pick up the win.
Hoffman was still pleased with his team’s late surge to make the playoffs after going winless in district play during the regular season.
“You’re happy to see guys succeed after toughing out a bad year districtwise,” Hoffman said. “But we won some games and it was a good season all-in-all.”
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