By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
DRIPPING SPRINGS – The Hays Rebels played a baseball game they didn’t want to play Saturday afternoon. But by the time that game ended, they were glad they played it.
The Rebels grew an arm, perhaps, with the emergence of Clayton Rogers, who pitched four no-hit innings in the game Hays didn’t want, the rubber game of its three-game playoff set with Dripping Springs. Rogers and an angry lineup of Hays bats combined for a 13-2 win over Dripping Springs, thereby winning their first-round playoff series, 2-1.
Hays advances to the second round, in which it will play Kerrville Tivy two-of-three this weekend. The first game is scheduled for Thursday, 7:30 p.m., at the Blossom athletic complex in San Antonio. Game 2 will begin Saturday, 2 p.m., at Blossom, with the third game, if needed, to start 30 minutes after the second game ends.
Rogers hadn’t pitched even four innings all season after recovering from shoulder surgery, and the signs that he could saddle up as a third pitcher to augment Paul Breyfogle and David Casas weren’t promising.
Rogers’ arm hadn’t recovered well enough to pitch the District 26-4A tiebreaker against New Braunfels Canyon on April 26, four days after a relief appearance against Canyon. Furthermore, Rogers was ineffective in a four-batter relief stint against Dripping Springs in Saturday’s earlier game.
But the Hays senior came up huge in Saturday’s second game, keeping alive a high school athletic career renowned for its mastery of the dramatic. Rogers made the last-second touchdown catch in the Alamodome that gave the Rebels their incredible 21-20 football victory over third-ranked Corpus Christi Calallen in the 2006 Region IV semifinals. Last football, playing quarterback, Rogers frequently pulled games out with fourth quarter heroics.
The senior’s heroics Saturday were less about the moment and more about the statement, even if they came somewhat as a surprise in light of the day’s events.
“I surprised myself,” Rogers said about his Saturday start.
Said Hays Coach Doug Ragsdale, “Nobody knew about Clayton. But his change-up was working and his curve ball was good.”
The Rebels began play Saturday at a commanding advantage after their 11-0 win over Dripping Springs in Game 1 of the series Friday night at Hays. Breyfogle polished off the Tigers with five strikeouts in five innings while allowing only three hits that night. The Rebels won run-rule style after the top of the fifth, minimizing the strain on their pitching staff.
Indeed, even Breyfogle would be available Saturday for about 20 pitches, having thrown only 60 pitches Friday. And every other Hays pitcher was set up with at least a week of rest, including No. 1 starter Casas with ten days of rest.
The only downside for Hays going to Saturday was that Dripping Springs saved its ace, Josh Urban, for Game 2, but the Rebels took care of that before long.
Soon after the noon Saturday start for Game 2 on a glorious day, the Rebels continued their domination. As they pounded Urban and chased him from the game, Casas shut down the Dripping Springs batting order. Entering the bottom of the fifth, Hays held a 7-2 lead.
The next two innings struck fear into the hearts of Hays fans as the entire pitching staff appeared to disintegrate at once. Within about 30 minutes, thoughts raced from wrapping up the series quickly so the kids could be on time for the prom to concern that Hays could never survive a third game because their pitchers couldn’t get anyone out.
The first four Dripping Springs batters against Casas in the fifth went single, double, double, single. Hays Coach Doug Ragsdale, hoping to wrap it up immediately, called Rogers from the outfield to relieve. But Rogers responded badly to the short warm-up, giving up a single, striking out a batter, then issuing two walks before Ragsdale took him out.
As Ragsdale went after Rogers, the Tigers already had scored four runs in the inning to come within 7-6, and they had the bases loaded with one out. Breyfogle, summoned in relief, couldn’t stop them, either. The Tigers plated three more before Breyfogle could post two outs to end the inning. Dripping Springs suddenly held a 9-7 lead.
The Rebels came back with a run in their half of the sixth, but Dripping Springs pounded Breyfogle and Jeff Copeland, scoring four times in their half of the inning. The game ended in a 13-8 Dripping Springs victory. Both pitching staffs were ragged. It seemed as though the deciding third game to be started in 30 minutes was to go on forever.
But Rogers answered the call in Game 3 while the Rebels pounded the ball. Hays scored six runs in its half of the first and kept tacking on while the Rogers mowed down Dripping Springs hitters.
“I really had to get warm first,” Rogers said. “Coming in the first game, I wasn’t ready after eight warm-up pitches. I got a good warm-up before the second game and it really helped.”
Ragsdale said he pulled Rogers after four batters in the first game specifically because he realized as Dripping Springs kept scoring that the Rebels would need the pitcher later in the day. As it turned out, the first game was part of Rogers’ warm-up for the second.
The Rebels held an 11-0 lead through three innings, suddenly opening the possibility that they could wrap it up in the fifth and rush to the prom. The urgency was palpable for such a lopsided game.
“I’ve been coaching for 35 years and I’ve been married for 36 years,” said Ragsdale, “and let me tell you something: These girlfriends are undefeated.”
Just to insure an early finish, the Rebels added two more in the fourth. Rogers also played a good game offensively, going two-for-two with a walk. Luke Guerrero went three-for-three with a double, Ryan Slaughter finished the game two-for-two and Jon Gonzales was two-for-three.
Thus, the game ended fast, so the Hays players and their parents could make a quick getaway from the Dripping Springs Sportsplex at 4:20 p.m. Prom dinner was set to begin at 6:30 p.m.
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