WACO — Inning for inning, pitch for pitch, Bullard Brook Hill’s A.J. Minter and The Woodlands Christian’s Zach Heard matched zeros — a full seven-inning game played with all of three hits, 19 strikeouts and no runs.
But in the eighth Guard junior Michael Greening made his way around the bases and scored on an error to chase Heard and Kendall Kerns followed with a three-run shot to lift Brook Hill to a 4-0, 8-inning victory in their TAPPS 3A state semifinal on Thursday at Waco ISD Veterans Field No. 2.
“State championships aren’t supposed to be easy,” said Minter, who struck out 15. “That’s what makes championships special.”
Brook Hill (27-3) will play in its third straight championship game today at 9 a.m. (weather permitting) at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Red Murff Field in Belton against Amarillo San Jacinto (20-4), a 5-0 winner over Austin St. Dominic Savio on Thursday. The Warriors ended their campaign 19-10.
With the wind blowing in and two pitchers who weren’t giving in, the game became a one-on-one battle between Minter, a Texas A&M commit, and Heard, a Cisco College signee.
Greening led off the eighth with a single to left field, his team’s second hit up to that point in the game. After JB Moss bunted him to second, Greening stole third in what proved to be the play of the game, according to Brook Hill coach Terry Pirtle.
Drew Robertson then lofted a fly ball to right field. With Greening preparing to tag up, Warriors right fielder Kyle Caddell took his eye off the ball for just long enough to miss the catch, allowing Greening to race home easily and Robertson to slide into second.
“A runner on third with less than two outs, it puts pressure on everybody,” Pirtle said. “(Heard was) a little flat right there (with the) runner on third base. He hadn’t been flat all day with the fast ball and Drew hit it well. There’s a huge difference between a runner on second base and a runner on third base to a pitcher.”
Heard walked the next batter to spell the end of his day. He finished with six strikeouts, six walks and two earned runs on two hits.
“I was throwing my heart out,” Heard said. “I was feeling alright, then they got the run and kind of put me down a little bit then I got pulled. It was awful.”
Drew Ross relieved Heard and Kerns, perhaps relieved not to be facing Heard, sent a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall.
“That was the game winner,” Pirtle said. “It’s a heart-breaker; it’s devastating. That took that worry out.”
Minter, despite having thrown 101 pitches up to that point, returned in the bottom of the eighth to retire the side in order. Minter walked three, allowed two infield hits to Ross and faced three above the minimum in his complete-game shutout.
“Thank goodness coach let me go back out,” Minter said.
Minter finished his year on the mound with 119 strikeouts to 19 walks while allowing seven earned runs and 25 hits in 59 2-3 innings. He allowed two runners to reach scoring position after balks, but escaped each time with strikeouts.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Pirtle said. “He’s got really good movement and he being left-handed and having a change of pace with a couple of pitches, (it’s) tough to hit a kid that changes pace like that.”
Heard allowed a single to Moss in the game’s first at bat and walked two straight batters to load the bases before he squeezed out of the jam with a strikeout. Heard settled in after that, using his fastball on the outside of the plate to hold the Guard hitless for six straight innings. The only other threat came when Collin Mondrik walked, took second on a bunt and stole third with one out, only to be stranded in the second inning.
“We played really well,” Heard said. “That’s the best team we’ve ever faced this year. It’s disappointing that we lost but I think we gave a pretty good effort.”
After consecutive run-rule wins in the playoffs, that they couldn’t hit Heard didn’t worry the Guard, Minter said.
“We weren’t nervous at all,” Minter said. “We weren’t stressing out. We weren’t scoring, but it just took ‘til the last inning for us to start going and that’s what good teams do — they don’t crack under pressure.”
Brook Hill will throw Robertson against San Jacinto today. Robertson is 7-0 on the year with a 0.47 ERA.
Bullard Brook Hill 4, The Woodlands Christian 0 (8 innings)
TAPPS 3A State Semifinal
At Waco ISD Veterans Field No. 2
Brook Hill 000 000 04 — 4 4 2
TW Chr. 000 000 00 — 0 2 1
A.J. Minter and Kendall Kerns. Zach Heard, Drew Ross (8) and Clayton Thedinger.
W – Minter (8-1). L – Heard.
2B – BH: Travis Pirtle. HR – BH: Kerns (eighth, two on).
RECORDS — Brook Hill 27-3; The Woodlands Christian 19-10.
NEXT UP — Brook Hill vs. Amarillo San Jacinto, 9 a.m. today, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Red Murff Field, Belton.