• Photo By Kyle Borne
    Connor Smith rounds third base during game three of the Steers three game bi-district playoff series against Iowa Park.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    The Steers attempt to turn a double play during game two of the weekend series against Iowa Park.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    The Steers celebrate a dramatic bi-district championship over Iowa Park that saw Graham come from behind twice to advance to the area round.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    Steven Kimberling catches an infield pop-up during game one of the weekends series against Iowa Park.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    Connor Smith makes a pickoff attempt during Friday's game one at Iowa Park.

Steers advance past Iowa Park in the playoffs

Steers take on Midlothian Heritage next in the Area Round

The bi-district round of the playoffs was exciting for the Steers baseball team. The Steers lost game one of the series in Iowa Park, but battled back on Saturday with two come-from-behind wins in games two and three to win the series and advance to the area round of the playoffs.

The Steers had a never-die attitude and overcame tons of adversity Saturday in Graham to win the bi-district championship.

“A lot of determination. That’s what we talked about is just to keep fighting until the end, and they did,” Steers head coach Jim Bob Williams said. “They had a will to win, and they weren’t going to lose. I was extremely proud of them. Both games, they kept fighting back, fighting back. We had a lot of things happen, negative things happen, but we just kept fighting through them. It was a tremendous efforts by the kids.”

Game one was a 7-1 victory for the Iowa Park Hawks. The Steers had early opportunities to score in game one but couldn’t find a way home. In the first inning, the Steers left the bases loaded without scoring a run. Iowa Park scored in the bottom of the first off of a two-RBI double and a deep fly ball. The Hawks took an early 3-0 lead.

In the top of the second, Graham came up short again on offense and left runners stranded on second and third base. The top of the third had a similar story for the Steers. Graham stranded runners again with the bases loaded. 

Iowa Park stranded runners on the corners, as well in the third. Connor Smith had settled into a nice groove on the mound for Graham at that point.

No one scored again in game one until the bottom of the fifth. A close but tough play at first started a rally for Iowa Park in the fifth inning. Jacob Jones came into pitch and struggled with his command on the mound. Iowa Park drove in three runs in the inning and took a commanding 6-0 lead over the Steers.

“They got things rolling, and we tried to bring Jacob (Jones) in to give them a different look,” Williams said. “Jacob struggled a little bit and couldn’t find the strike zone. When he did, he got ground balls and they got a couple of them through. That’s what we wanted, him to get ground balls. They were just able to get them through the holes when they hit them.”

The Steers fought back in the sixth inning with a lead-off double from Kody Perry. Graham was not able to capitalize on the offensive fortune, however.  He was left stranded. Iowa Park added another run in the sixth. The Hawks scored off of an RBI double to right field.

Smith doubled to get the seventh started. He scored on a fielder’s choice at first that saw Tucker Horn retired. The Steers scored one run, but that was all for game one. Iowa Park took the victory 7-1 and jumped out to a 1-0 series lead at home.

Iowa Park seized the momentum early, and the Steers had a hard time trying to catch up.

“We had opportunities early. The first inning we loaded them up and then we also ended up striking out three times,” Williams said. “We didn’t get the hits we had to. A couple of them, like on Steven (Kimberling), looked kind of low, but the umpire ended up calling that pitch all night. We weren’t adjusted to it yet. Their kid did a great job on the mound. He responded when he had to and made pitches to get out of the situations. We just got to take advantage of those when we get them next time.”

Perry had a great night at the plate in game one. He went 3-for-3 with a double. Smith went 2-for-4 and scored the game’s only run for the Steers. 

On the mound, Smith pitched 4.1 innings and allowed five hits and four earned runs to score. Jones pitched two-thirds of an inning and gave up two walks and a hit. Danny Key pitched one inning. He surrendered one hit and one run.

The Steers gave up big innings in game one to Iowa Park and understood what needed to happen to rebound in game two.

“We have to keep them from having big innings. They had seven runs tonight (Friday). They had two or three run innings,” Williams said. “We just have to keep them from having the big innings. They kind of feed off of the big innings. They are similar to Mineral Wells in that way. They kind of get things rolling, and we have to limit that. We have to keep them from having those big innings.”

The Steers went home to Graham and opened up game two on Saturday afternoon with a clean slate. The Hawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first, but the Steers offense battled back. Graham’s Evan Schraub hit a leadoff triple, and Perry drove him in on a single. Smith kept the offense going with a single that scored Perry. The Steers took an early 2-1 lead.

Both teams went down quickly in the second inning. Dillon Rodgers got the start for Graham. Iowa Park took back the lead in the top of the third. A dropped third strike and then a missed ball at first gave Iowa Park runners on with no outs. The Hawks scored two runs on a single to right to take a 3-2 lead.

The Steers got the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning but couldn’t capitalize with two outs. 

In the fourth, two runs scored for Iowa Park on a dropped fly ball in center field. Iowa Park took a 5-2 lead. Graham stranded two more runners in the bottom of the fourth.

Logan Taylor scored on a fielder’s choice at first in the bottom of the fifth, narrowing the Hawks lead to 5-3.

Iowa Park’s offense came right back again, however, in the sixth. The Hawks scored on an infield single and then a sacrifice fly to grab a 7-3 lead that they took to the final inning.

With their backs against the wall in the final inning, on verge of elimination, the Steers didn’t relent. Kimberling singled to score with the bases loaded, and then Key came up huge with an RBI double that scored two more runs. The drama continued for the Steers as the tying run was walked in. 

Tied at 7-7, Smith came into the batter’s box with a mission. He managed to drive the ball to right field and drove in the winning run. Callen Mills came across the plate for the Steers, and they grabbed a walk off 8-7 win over the Iowa Park Hawks. There was more baseball to play Saturday evening.

Rodgers pitched all seven innings for the Steers in game two. He struck out two and walked seven. He surrendered three earned runs and only gave up three hits.

Offensively, Perry had another big game. He went 3-for-4 with a run scored, two RBIs and a walk. Smith went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Taylor went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and  a walk. Jaxon Brockway went 2-for-3 with a run scored also.

Game three was quite the chess match for both teams. Iowa Park scored game three’s first run off of a double quickly in the top of the first. Graham went down 1-2-3 in the first inning.

Graham answered with a bunt single that scored Mills in the bottom of the second to tie the game. The Steers left the bases loaded in the inning.

Iowa Park battled right back and scored a run off of a sac fly in the third. Horn then doubled for the Steers and scored Smith to tie the game right back up for Graham at 2-2 at the end of three.

Iowa Park kept the back-and-forth effort going. They scored a run in the top of the fourth, and then Graham followed it with another run in the bottom of the inning. Brockway scored on a fielder’s choice to even the score at three apiece after four innings.

Both squads stranded runners in the fifth and kept the score tied. The top of the sixth was a big inning for Iowa Park. The Hawks scored three in the inning due to some defensive miscues. Iowa Park got things going with two on and two out in the sixth. An Iowa Park double scored two, and then another run was able to score off of two Graham throwing errors. The Hawks built a 6-3 lead in the middle of the sixth.

The Steers were truly determined in this series. They came right back in the bottom of the sixth. Chance Hornsey scored on a Perry single. Schraub and Perry then scored on a Horn double. The game was tied at six as they headed to the final inning.

Both teams were retired 1-2-3 in the seventh, so it was on to extra innings for the Steers to decide the bi-district championship.

After one out, Iowa Park got into trouble in the eighth. Perry reached base on an error. Smith was intentionally walked and then stole second base. Horn was then walked, so that the Hawks could stay alive with a double play. Iowa Park was unable to turn two. Kimberling drove the ball to left field, and that scored Perry for the winning run. The Steers won game three 7-6 and Graham advances to the area round on Thursday against Midlothian Heritage.

Kimberling understood what he had to do to help the Steers in a critical extra innings situation.

“I was like, I either get a base-hit and win the game or I strike out and then I was like, I am just going to get a base-hit,” he said.

The Steers did not see losing as an option and are looking forward to another week of playoff baseball and are confident the miscues can be resolved.

“We just wanted to win. We had to win to move on to the next round,” Kimberling said. “We have another week of practice to get all of that cleaned up.”

Mistakes in the field will happen on the high school level. Multiple defensive errors in the same innings is what hurt Graham the most on Saturday.

“We had a couple of innings where things go wrong in the same inning. We can’t have two or three mistakes in the same inning,” Williams said. “If we have one, we have to fight through it and take care of it. That’s what we did early on is we had too many of those and gave them the lead. Like I said, though, the kids just kept fighting, kept fighting.”

On the mound in game three, Horn pitched four innings. He allowed three earned runs on three hits. Jones pitched a scoreless inning, allowing two hits. Luke Stone pitched three innings. He surrendered three runs (none earned) and only gave up two hits. He collected four strikeouts on the hill.

Williams was pleased with his pitchers performances and ability to throw strikes.

“They did what we wanted them to, they threw strikes,” Williams said. “Tucker kept coming and saying ‘Hey coach, they’re hitting them hard’. I said that’s all right they are hitting them at us. As long as you keep throwing over the plate and if they hit it in the wind it’s not going anywhere. We’ll go out and make catches. They pounded the strike zone and that’s what we wanted. We put several of them out there and kind of ran through them. Everyone of them stepped up and did a great job. 

Offensively, the Steers came up clutch when they needed to. Kimberling went 2-for-5 with the key RBI. Taylor went 2-for-4. Horn went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a walk. Perry had an RBI and scored two runs also.

Iowa Park was a talented opponent and a solid team to play in the opening round of the playoffs for the Steers.

“They are a class act. Coach Swinson does a great job with them,” Williams said. “That Kimbro kid is probably as tough of an out we have seen all year.  He is the toughest kid we have had to try to get out all year. They have got several other kids who are really good at the plate. Their kids did a great job on the mound also. They did a great job of working out of trouble. We had chances early on, and their kids did a great job of working out of it. It was a great effort by their kids and our kids.”

The Steers next opponent in the area round is Midlothian Heritage. The Steers opened the regular season with the Jaguars in Kennedale. Graham won that game 1-0 in a low scoring affair. Midlothian Heritage defeated Bridgeport in the bi-district round in another low scoring game. Heritage’s pitching staff seems to be successfully limiting opponents at-times, but their offense has been inconsistent and struggled at times throughout the season.

Graham’s keys to victory in the area round will surround the Steers ability to control defensive miscues and their ability to capitalize on early scoring opportunities. The Steers will have a good chance to advance to the regional quarter-finals where Abilene Wylie would be the likely next opponent.

Game one of the area round of the playoffs will be Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Graham. Game two will be at 2 p.m Saturday at Midlothian Heritage. Game three will follow game two in Midlothian if necessary.

The Graham Leader

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