It was an all-out war.
District foes Robinson battled China Spring in a one-game series Thursday night at Baylor Ballpark with a trip to the state tournament in Austin on the line.
In a game full of big hits and run-saving defensive outs for both sides, no play in the field felt bigger in the moment as Cayden Johnson flew out to Mason Cooper at shortstop to seal the 8-4 victory for the Rockets and open the floodgates from the dugout as gloves and hats flew in the air around a Robinson dog pile.
“We knew this is how it was going to be,” Robinson coach Bryan Kent said. “What fight from both sides. You saw great defensive plays. It’s a hot, humid day. Both teams laid it all on the line.”
While the Rockets celebrated down the third base line in the infield, the Cougars took a knee in shallow right field.
Behind dramatic finishes and a feisty new edge, China Spring was one of a handful of teams with double-digit losses to advance this far in the playoffs.
“This team was the picture of determination,” China Spring coach Jesse Lopez said. “These guys, all 15, 16 or 17 of them, they all fought. I’m really proud of that. To me, we’re going in the right direction and we owe it to these guys. These six seniors have worked extremely hard to take the program to where it’s at and where it’s going. I told them that I’m ready to get back to this spot next year. We’ll lick our wounds I guess you’d say. But we’ll back back next year.”
Both teams were scoreless through the first inning before Robinson plated four in the top of the second.
With runners on second and third, Cale Moseley grounded out to shortstop which scored the first run of the evening for the Rockets.
Another Robinson run scored off an error by China Spring before a double by Cooper brought two runs home.
But the Cougars didn’t bow out of the fight after taking a hit.
Instead, China Spring hit right back.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, the Cougars scored three runs off a double by Cayden Johnson, a triple by Payton Spell and a single by Brett Cain.
“We want to score first,” Lopez said. “If we don’t score first we want to respond. They responded.”
And suddenly, a four-run lead was cut to one for Robinson.
“I knew,” Kent said. “I watched (China Spring) play last week. I knew they weren’t going to go away.”
After that inning, both teams went to their bullpen.
Robinson’s Braxton Ashcraft came on for Dru Dziedzic and China Spring’s Cayden Johnson came on for Carson Bell.
Both relievers started off well as neither team scored again for two more innings until the Rockets put up another big inning in the top of the fifth with three runs.
Behind some insurance, Ashcraft finished strong through five innings allowing one run off six hits with seven strikeouts.
“Dru didn’t have his best stuff today,” Kent said. “He came out of the game, and I told him that we had his back. Braxton went out there. I don’t think he had his best stuff, but he competed. I’m extremely proud of him.”
Behind the depth of the pitching staff and the solid defense behind them, Robinson punched its second-straight ticket to the state tournament in Austin.
When asked how he would sum up that feat, Kent had to wait to answer as his players yelled, “We’re going to state!” in the dugout.
“I’m just so happy for our kids,” Kent said. “This didn’t start tonight. This didn’t start in January. This started in August whenever we went through offseason baseball. Our goal was to get back to Austin. I’m so proud.”