BASEBALL: East Central stays focused, completes Roosevelt trifecta

Hornets beat rain to take momentum into district play




Coaches loathe playing the same team three times in a season, let alone little more than a week.

That’s the challenge East Central (8-3) was presented with March 20 in a game moved up an hour to finish just ahead of a slowly advancing rainstorm. Mother Nature placed that distraction squarely in the Hornets’ path, but they still wouldn’t bite.

With the exception of one half-inning their concentration remained on the task at hand and the Hornets completed the trifecta. They downed Roosevelt for the third time in nine days, 10-3. Each of the games took place on East Central’s home field.

“It was very difficult, after we were very competitive with them the first two times,” East Central coach Joe Gutierrez said. “One of the things we talked about was focusing on one pitch and one play at a time.

“We try to concentrate on what we need to work on with our team. You’re going to make mistakes, but it’s a matter of how you respond.”

The Hornets defeated Roosevelt 11-1 March 11 and 3-0 March 12 in the opening games of the East Central Tournament. They won four of five games in the tournament, but took a two-game losing streak into their next meeting with the Roughriders.

Roosevelt (0-9) trailed 6-0 after five innings — as East Central freshman pitcher Blade Strzelczyk allowed no hits or baserunners through four – but threw a scare into the Hornets in the top of the sixth. The Roughriders crept within three by capitalizing on a Hornets error and run-scoring hits from Joey Castaneda and Brennan Boykin.

“We got some timely hits at the right time,” Gutierrez said. “That’s part of the game. We told them, ‘Let’s get those runs back,’ and they responded.”

East Central junior Justin Upshaw-Mendoza, who reached base in each of his four plate appearances. drew a walk that began the rally. Carlos Gallegos beat out an infield single and Joseph Gutierrez (2-for-4) lined a base hit to right field, loading the bases.

Strzelczyk’s fourth walk forced in a run. Shortstop Jeremy Almaguer (3 RBIs) crushed a two-run double and Kyle Wildman singled to make it 10-3.

“We already knew how the competition was going to be,” Upshaw-Mendoza said. “We just needed to come out here and play.”

The Hornets took the lead with two runs in the second inning, as Gutierrez contributed the only hit. Upshaw-Mendoza drew the first of four East Central walks in the third and scored on a passed ball for a 3-0 lead. The Hornets also pushed across a run in the fourth without generating one of its seven hits.

East Central scored twice in the fifth. Tristan Alvarado scored the first run on an error and Fernando Luna (2-for-5) made it 6-0 with an RBI single.

“We have to find a way to score before the big hits come,” Gutierrez said. “We want them to come at the right time and bring in a run.”

Hornets pitchers Strzelczyk, Jacob Guerra and Wildman combined to limit Roosevelt to three hits.

“I think we’re coming together as a team and playing as one,” Upshaw-Mendoza said. “We’ve been playing well. We’re playing for each other. We have a really strong bullpen, and we’re competing well on the mound.”

East Central, which has four seniors and seven juniors, begins District 28-6A play when they play host to Corpus Christi Carroll Friday, March 27 at 7 p.m. The Tigers (10-0-1) are No. 7 in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 6A state rankings.

With most of its players benefitting from at least one year of varsity experience, the Hornets are aiming for a better run through the tough district. East Central finished 13-10-2 overall and 3-7 in the district.

“We have high expectations,” Gutierrez said. “Our pitching is good. If we can get runners on base and move them over, that goes a long way.”

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