FRANKLIN — Grayson Rodriguez showed Clifton a lot of reasons why he’s projected to be a first-round draft pick in next month’s Major League Baseball draft.
The hard-throwing right-hander spun a three-hitter and collected eight strikeouts to lead No. 1 Nacogdoches Central Heights to a 4-0 win over the Cubs in Thursday night’s opener of the Region III-3A semifinals.
Coming off last year’s Class 3A state championship, the Blue Devils need one more win to advance to the Region III finals. The Cubs (25-5-1) and Blue Devils (27-4-1) will play at 3 p.m. Saturday in Madisonville, and a second game will follow if Clifton wins.
“This game didn’t change our mindset a bit,” said Clifton pitcher Edgar Rodriguez. “We’re going to come back and play even harder on Saturday.”
Grayson Rodriguez is a Texas A&M signee who throws a fastball with a top speed in the mid-90 mph range. Clifton attacked aggressively as Edgar Rodriguez singled in the first inning, Hunter Ringo doubled to open the second inning, and Mason Brandenberger singled in the sixth.
But Rodriguez showed good command as he didn’t walk a batter while hitting a pair. The Cubs couldn’t string together enough baserunners to push across a run.
“There’s a reason why people are saying he’s going to be a first-round draft pick,” said Clifton coach Brian Slater. “He’s really good. But our kids are naturally aggressive and we’re not going to change for anybody. We’ve been hunting fastballs all year. We just couldn’t get the big hit when people got on base.”
Edgar Rodriguez pitched a solid game for the Cubs as he allowed seven hits, two walks and hit two batters.
“Edgar did exactly what we wanted him to do,” Slater said. “He kept us in the game. He’s been a senior leader all year and he showed that tonight.”
The Blue Devils broke through with a pair of first-inning runs. After Edgar Rodriguez walked Braden Thomas, Grayson Rodriguez drilled a run-scoring double and Rowan Arrant hit a run-scoring single.
Dillon Burris opened the second inning with a homer over the left-field fence to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead.
Central Heights didn’t score again until the sixth when Tyler Burris was hit by a pitch and came across on Will Haley’s single.
Ringo was the only Clifton hitter to reach second when he doubled to open the second inning. But when Carter Guinn hit a ground ball to Grayson Rodriguez, Ringo was nailed in a rundown between second and third. Rodriguez retired the next two batters to end the inning.
“That kid is by far the fastest pitcher we’ve faced all year,” Edgar Rodriguez said. “We knew he was going to throw strikes and we did the best we could to hit him.”