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Judgment Fall: Bell's walk-off double bounces Panthers from postseason
COPPELL -- The L.D. Bell baseball team won't be making friends in Plano ISD anytime soon.
One week removed from extinguishing Plano Senior's playoff run in area play, the Blue Raiders handed Plano East its postseason walking papers Saturday with a 2-1 victory in walk-off fashion to close the best-of-3 regional quarterfinal series.
"We just didn't swing the bats all that well today," said Travis Collins, East head coach. "We hit way too many pop-ups and got balls in the air. We never really made [Bell] have to work for anything."
As has become a recurring theme in East's stick-and-ball sports over the past week, the matchup included a share of late-game controversy.
With both teams knotted at 1-1 in the top of the sixth inning, East senior Paul Garcia took the first pitch from Bell's Weston Sims and clubbed the ball into deep left field. Hit near the foul pole, Bell left fielder Gavin Gregory ran by the foul line whiffing an empty glove as the ball sailed over the fence.
After some initial discussion, the ball was declared foul, much to Collins' dismay.
"(That ball was) fair by 5 feet," he said. "I want it in print. It's fair by 5 feet and we pay four umpires to watch the baseball and four umpires don't get it right. It's not fair and it's not fair to the kids that they missed that, but life isn't fair and it's a tough life lesson.
"It's a bad mistake that shouldn't have been made."
The umpire's explanation didn't do much to quell the coach's frustration.
"All of them lost the ball in the sun," Collins said. "Nobody saw it, the guy at first was watching the first-base bag to make sure it was touched, I don't know what the second-base umpire was watching for, but they all said they lost it and never saw it. The left fielder just ran by because he knew it was gone and they saw him go by and never saw the baseball.
The call was another untimely blip on the radar for an East offense that failed to register a baserunner over the final three innings. And while Bell was anything but a model of success from the plate through six, the Raiders managed to strike in the seventh.
Dealt East senior reliever Alex Stuart on the bump, Bell got aboard via a walk to Gregory to open the inning with the score still 1-1. Two batters later, Blake Henderson hammered the ball into the left-center gap, allowing Gregory to score from first for the game-winning, walk-off RBI double.
The Raiders' timely surge closed the book on what had been a back-and-forth, defensive-minded contest highlighted by Sims and East senior Jacob DeLaCruz.
Despite seeing limited time on the bump this season, DeLaCruz was game for six innings Saturday, where he held Bell to just one run on three hits while striking out six.
"[DeLaCruz] did a great job for us today," Collins said. "He was hurt a bit earlier in the year and just hasn't been able to throw for us much, but came out today and threw a great game.
"He deserved a lot better than what happened. It's tough."
The pitcher's lone blemish came in the fourth when Taylor Empkey led the frame off with a double down the first-base line. Following a double steal by he and Gregory, Trevor Podsednik scored Empkey on a groundout to junior Nick Ramos for a 1-1 tie.
However, DeLaCruz's showing was gamely countered by Sims, who limited the Panthers to just one run on four hits.
"You don't get this far without having some quality arms," Collins said. "We just pulled off a lot of balls and tried hitting a five-run homer with one guy on base. And then the time we actually did hit one, we don't get credit for it."
The run East was credited for transpired a half-inning before Bell's, with senior Sam Lane knocking home senior Jacob Boucher, who singled earlier in the frame. The Panthers had other chances as well, getting five runners on base through two innings -- including a bases-loaded scenario in the first -- but falling prey to Sims and the Raiders on each occasion.
The end result saw the Panthers close their deepest playoff run since 2009, finishing the season at 22-16-1.
"This is a much more talented group than people give them credit for," Collins said. "We're not very big, but one thing I've never had to question with this group all year is how they battle and compete.
"That's all we ask of them and that goes a long way; not just out here, but in life."