The Hilltoppers had a long road trip to Cleveland to continue their playoff bid May 1 but they made it worthwhile picking up a 10-3 win to return the series to Houston Friday.
Austin Burdine got the win on the hill for the Toppers and helped himself with multiple hits including a home run. Reid Carter also knocked in a homer and multiple hits were recorded by Grady Nabors, Denver McQuary and Carter.
“We played extremely well Thusday night in Cleveland,” said coach Scott Gann. “As usual, Austin Burdine was dominant on the mound for us and had given up zero runs and had 11 Ks through five innings, so we gave (freshman) Tanner Smith an opportunity to throw some for us in the late innings. The bats were red-hot after the first two guys got out. Out of the ten runs scored, all ten were RBI, so that tells me we were earning everything we got.”
The Toppers didn’t dispatch the Wildcats quite as effectively in their Friday game, but they got the job done when it counted.
The Toppers carried a 1-0 lead through the bottom of the fourth and the Wildcats made a move at the top of the fifth as Dillon Norwood hit an RBI single to tie the game and Matthew Hardman’s RBI single put Cleveland ahead, 1-2.
Houston pitcher Clay Hillhouse got the Toppers out of the jam, striking out Jacob Thomas with two on and two outs.
The Toppers got their rally in the bottom of the sixth as Burdine led off with a double up the third base line and McQuary reached on a pitching error. Carter’s fly out advanced Burdine to third and McQuary stole second to set up Luke Hancock’s RBI single up the first baseline that tied the game at 2-2. Hunter Moore got a two-out single past second to put the Toppers ahead, 3-2, going into the top of the seventh.
Hillhouse struck out Jordan Burchfield and two groundouts gave the Houston boys the series win.
“We came out flat and I somewhat expected that after the big win the night before,” Gann said. “We needed a big hit late and it all was started once again by our senior leader, Austin Burdine (in the sixth inning).
We meet again
The Toppers next step down the playoff road will be a rematch with the Kosciusko Whippets. The Toppers handed Kosy two losses in the regular season, 12-2, 7-6, but Gann doesn’t underestimate the Whippets desire to turn the tables.
“Kosciusko is a really hot team right now and will be a tough opponent,” Gann said. “We’ve had some battles with them lately and I expect this series to be no different.”
The Toppers will host Kosciusko Friday at 6 p.m. and play Game Two on the road at 7 p.m. Saturday. If a third game is needed, it will return to Houston Monday at 6 p.m.