ROUND ROCK — Brandon Nations hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning to score Bryson Adair to give Malakoff a 4-3 win over Gunter in Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal at Dell Diamond.
“Brandon Nations, a big time hit,” Malakoff head baseball coach John Adair said of the game-winning play. “To do it in the bottom of the seventh … and to get the clutch hit, it’s awesome.”
Malakoff (37-7) will face Corpus Christi London (33-5-1) at 9 a.m. Saturday in the UIL 3A state championship game. London defeated Brock, 7-2, in the other semifinal.
It didn’t start out easy because Malakoff starting pitcher Alan Benhardt felt Gunter’s early pressure in the top of the first inning, but he bounced back and finished with eight strikeouts in five innings of work.
Garrett Vogel had a lead-off single and advanced to second base on Kaden Rigsby’s sacrifice groundout. Cade Dodson was then hit by a pitch and advanced to second base on the same wild pitch that allowed Vogel to move to third. But, Benhardt got out of the jam by striking out Trey Oblas and Cooper Wade.
Malakoff was also ready to strike in its first at-bat and produced an even better bottom of the first. After back-to-back groundouts during the Benhardt and Bryson Adair at-bats, Cole Gaddis smacked a double to deep center field and Nations drove him in with an RBI double for the first run of the game.
Benhardt recorded his third strikeout of the game when he faced Nash Daniel in the top of the second, but still had to get out of another jam. He allowed a lead-off walk to Landon Pelfrey, who later advanced to second base on Colton Jolly’s sacrifice groundout. Benhardt then walked Riekkhen Bostick and hit Garrett Vogel with a pitch. But, Kaden Rigsby hit into a fielder’s choice that caused Vogel to be the inning-ending out at second base.
Malakoff looked to expand its lead in the bottom of the second when Nathan Jones doubled to right field and advanced to third base on a balk, and the team ultimately loaded the bases with two outs, but couldn’t drive in another run. Erik Waldo added a walk and Benhardt was hit by pitch, but strikeouts against Wes Hustead and Bryson Adair and a groundout during Riggin Smith’s at-bat squandered the scoring opportunity.
But, the East Texas Tigers broke through again and added insurance runs in the bottom of the third. Gaddis drew a lead-off walk before Nations smacked a two-run home run to give them a 3-0 lead.
That came into play because Gunter stormed back. The Texoma Tigers started to do damage with two outs in the top of the fourth inning. After Pelfrey struck out and Jolly had a pop-up, Daniel walked and scored on Riekkhen Bostick’s RBI triple to make it a 3-1 game.
And they tied up the score in the top of the sixth inning. Daniel recorded a two-run RBI double that drove in Jolly and Pelfrey to make it a 3-3 game.
But, Nations came up big for Malakoff in the bottom of the seventh when his RBI single drove in Adair for the game-winning run.
Nations finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs.