When teams reach this point of the Little League season, the sun has to set for someone.
Jeremiah Arnett assured that it wouldn’t be his team.
In a game that opened under a bright, shades-requiring sun and wrapped up under the cover of darkness, Arnett shone brightly on the mound. The reliable right-hander punched out 11 batters in propelling Midway over Lake Air, 4-3, in a hotly-contested battle for the District 9 major baseball championship Wednesday at the Lake Air complex.
Arnett went the distance, and struck out at least one batter in each of those six innings – including striking out the side in the first and fifth.
“He’s been a rock for us. We’ve relied on him a lot,” Midway manager Ryan Johnson said of Arnett. “We have a deep pitching staff, but Jeremiah, we gave him the ball tonight and he said he wanted to finish it.”
Nevertheless, Lake Air engaged Midway in a raucous tug of war for that district championship banner. Trailing 4-1 entering the fifth inning, Lake Air rallied with two runs to ratchet up the drama.
For Lake Air, it all started with a pinch hitter, as Zach Garcia came off the bench to smack a leadoff double to the fence in right-center. Two batters later, pitcher Nik Sanders bounced a slow roller toward Midway shortstop Jake Weaver, then hustled down the line to come through with a run-scoring infield single.
Arnett followed with his second strikeout of the inning, retiring Jayden Martinez. But then Lake Air’s Julio “Big Papi” Palacios spanked a liner that found a hole and shot into left field for an RBI single, bringing the score to 4-3.
However, that proved to mark the end of Lake Air’s comeback. Arnett struck out Lake Air’s Valdin Mendez to escape the fifth, then retired the side in order in the sixth, fanning two more.
“Lake Air deserves a lot of credit,” Johnson said. “Their pitcher (Sanders) was really, really tough. But our kids came here to compete, and they just did a good job today. It’s really three weeks of a lot of work for these boys. They’ve really worked. I think our kids worked the hardest, and they’ve earned this.”
Lake Air actually struck first blood in the game, taking a 1-0 after the top of the first. Landon Campbell swatted the first pitch from Arnett into the right-field corner for a double, then eventually scored from third on a strikeout in the dirt.
But Midway charged back in the bottom of the inning to snatch a lead that it would never relinquish. Patton Harris whacked a single off Lake Air’s Sanders to lead things off, while Weaver followed with a walk. Midway tied the game on a Boston Pate groundout, and took a 2-1 lead two batters later on Josh Fullbright’s infield dribbler that resulted in a well-placed infield single.
With both sets of fans loudly cheering on their kids, Midway increased the gap to 4-1 two innings later. Weaver worked a leadoff walk off Sanders, then swiped second base to move into scoring position. And Midway took advantage when Pate belted an RBI single up the middle. They tacked on one more when Fullbright looped an RBI knock into the right-field corner.
Fullbright and Pate tagged two hits each to spark Midway at the dish, while Sanders topped Lake Air with two hits, including one of his team’s four doubles.
After the final out, Midway’s players hurled their gloves to the dugout and gathered in a happy, hoppy group hug. They’ll move on to the sectional tournament, but they have visions of far more illustrious destinations.
“Williamsport,” said a smiling Johnson, referring to the home of the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.
At an adjacent field at the Lake Air complex, Midway also wrapped up a District 9 title in the 9-11 baseball division, vanquishing Robinson in the title game.
Several area Little League all-star softball teams have also wrapped up District 9 titles and will advance on to the sectional round.
Midway defeated Crawford for the 8-10 district crown on Tuesday night. Midway didn’t drop a game in the district tournament, going 4-0, including a pair of wins over Crawford.
Meanwhile, Lake Air’s girls went undefeated through the District 9 major softball tournament, knocking off Midway in the final. Lorena buzzed to the junior softball title, while Central Texas Little League out of Killeen claimed the senior softball division. Central Texas will advance straight to the state level in Abilene, as there no other teams that advanced to the sectional level.
All of the softball teams except that aforementioned senior league team move on to sectionals. Those tournaments will begin on July 5 and be hosted by West Little League.
Area softball and baseball coaches whose teams won district titles may submit team photos to the Tribune-Herald for publication at firstname.lastname@example.org.