ROUND ROCK – Hunter Pope dedicated Friday’s Class 1A state semifinal contest to his grandfather who passed away six months ago.
And what a game he had.
Pope threw the first no-hitter in the state tournament – in any division – since Salado’s Kevin Jackson in 2008.
The junior had to hold back tears as he thought about how he was able to accomplish the feat as Abbott (28-3-1) run-ruled Gilmer Union Hill (9-14) 12-0 in five innings.
“I feel like he was looking over me,” Pope said. “He helped me through the game. He helped us get the win.”
Pope walked two batters in the first inning, but retired three other Bulldogs to get things rolling at Dell Diamond.
The Panther defense didn’t make a play until the second inning when senior shortstop Brent Mynar snagged a pop fly in foul territory.
“That’s a good play to settle a pitcher in,” Abbott coach Kyle Crawford said. “When you get those kinds of plays, then you start to think that (Pope) might do something special. And he capitalized on it.”
From the second inning on, the Panther defense retired nine straight batters before Pope walked Colt Mallory in the top of the fifth.
Abbott responded by throwing Kealin Dunn out on a sacrifice bunt before Pope and the defense picked off Mallory for the second out of the frame.
All that was left was Adam Kuza at the plate for Union Hill, and Pope dialed up his eighth strikeout of the morning to seal the win.
“If I said I wasn’t at least a little surprised I’d probably be lying,” Crawford said. “Do you ever think a no-hitter in a semifinal game is likely, probably not. But he’s the kind of kid that can do it. He gets up there full of confidence, loves the big moments. He loves the big stage.”
Pope entered Friday morning’s contest with a 1-0 record on the season.
He hadn’t pitched long for most of the year, lasting a maximum of three innings because, according to Pope, “his arm has been messing with him.”
Against Union Hill he went the distance, throwing a total of 76 pitches.
“I threw a lot of curve balls,” Pope said. “That was my main pitch. It got the hitters off. They didn’t seem like they wanted to hit it, so I kept throwing it over and over. It seemed like it worked.”
While Pope was dominant on the mound, he was also strong at the plate as he finished 3-for-3 with two runs scored and four RBIs.
Afterward, Pope said the baseball looked like a basketball to him in the batter’s box.
“In the batting cage I was just ripping it all day,” he said. “Then the first hit I ripped it. It felt good. I just wanted to keep going and win.”
Mynar also went 3-3 at the plate with four RBIs and three runs scored.
The top three batters for Abbott – Weston Cantrell, Mynar and Pope – accounted for seven of the Panthers’ 10 hits, nine of the 11 RBIs and eight of the 12 runs scored.
The offense exploded out of the gates in the first inning as Abbott plated 10 runs in the frame.
The Panthers scored five runs before Union Hill got the first out.
Mynar and Pope each had an RBI hit before Matthew Urbanovsky reached first on an error by Union Hill’s shortstop and Matthew Pevehouse loaded the bases with a bunt to the pitcher when there wasn’t a Bulldog covering first base.
The Panthers didn’t strand any base runners that inning.
“Did I think offensively we were capable of doing something like that, absolutely,” Crawford said. “That’s our pack mentality. We’re going to hit it hard, keep putting pressure on the defense.”
Abbott scored two more runs in the third – once again off the bats of Pope and Mynar.
And Mynar will get the nod to start on the mound in Saturday’s state title game against Fayetteville (14-12).
“We took a little bit of a gamble today with Pope,” Crawford said. “Not that we don’t have full confidence with him but a lot of teams throw their number one in the semifinal. Now tomorrow we’re going in with our entire staff. We’ve got seven arms available tomorrow. We’ve got all 110 pitches tomorrow for Mynar. When you go into a state championship with that, you’ve got to feel pretty good going into it. We’ve got another opportunity so it’s up to us to capitalize and go get it.”
For the first time since 1985, Abbott is playing in the state tournament.
And for the first time in school history, the Panthers will be playing for the title at 9 a.m. Saturday at Dell Diamond.
“It’s big,” Pope said. “It’s been a long time since Abbott has been to state. I think it’s our time to step up and win the state championship.”