MAGNOLIA – West Orange-Stark won the coin flip and made the call that its regional semifinal baseball playoff versus the Robinson Rockets would be a high-stakes one-game affair.
Robinson never flinched.
The Rockets built a three-run lead and then slammed the door on a late West Orange-Stark rally to claim a 4-2 victory on Thursday night at Magnolia High School.
“We knew that it was going to be a challenge,” Robinson coach Bryan Kent said. “Anytime you get to this point in the playoffs you’re going to be tested. To be tested with the guy that they had on the mound (pitcher Jack Dallas) that’s been everything for them, made it even tougher. But our kids understood what they were up against.
“Our guys play together really well and tonight was a total team effort.”
By dismissing the Mustangs, Robinson is now on the brink of qualifying for the state tournament for the second consecutive season. The Rockets (29-2) advance to the Class 4A Region 3 final and await the winner of the China Spring vs. Bridge City regional semifinal best-of-three series.
Rockets starter Dru Dziedzic held West Orange-Stark to one hit through five innings and had eight strikeouts when he left to a loud ovation from the Robinson fans with two out in the sixth.
Robinson’s Braxton Ashcraft took the mound in relief and struck out three of the four batters he faced to earn the save.
“We knew coming in that you can’t pitch two guys at the same time,” Kent said. “We knew that if Dru could come in and give us a good steady several innings that Braxton could come in and close the door. Once they started putting a few swings on (Dziedzic), it was time to go to Braxton. I’m glad both of them got to pitch. I’m extremely proud of them.”
Robinson made its move early at the plate.
Rockets center fielder Mason Cooper walked and stole second in the top of the first inning, allowing him to score when catcher Peyton Powell drilled a two-out single to left field.
Robinson then added two more runs in the top of the second. Left fielder Jake Strain drove in a run with a grounder to shortstop that scored designated hitter Cale Moseley. Cooper followed with a single to left that scored first baseman Chris Morrow.
The Rockets added an insurance run in the sixth when shortstop Jordan Rogers led off with a double and moved to third on a bunt single by pinch hitter Rhett Roznos. Rogers eventually scored on a grounder that resulted in a Mustang double play, but Robinson had tacked on a run that made it 4-0.
The Mustangs (26-4) got two runs back with a pair of two-out hits in the bottom of the sixth, which prompted Kent to bring in Ashcraft.
With West Orange-Stark’s tying run at the plate in the form of right fielder Tre Bernard, Ashcraft struck out Bernard to end the inning.
The Rockets clinched the victory with a three-up-three-down inning in the seventh and celebrated advancing to the next round of the playoffs.