DENTON — Less than 24 hours after letting a two-run lead slip away late in Game 1 of its regional semifinal series, the Coppell baseball team returned the favor against state-ranked Keller.
Just as the Indians piled up five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on Thursday en route to a 5-2 victory, the Cowboys used that same inning to conjure some late-game heroics of their own on Friday. Senior David Jeon did the honors, launching a three-run home run to cap a four-run frame for Coppell and overtake Keller for an eventual 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the best-of-3 series at Denton Guyer.
Squared at one game apiece, the Indians and Cowboys will break the stalemate at 1 p.m. Saturday back at Guyer for a spot in the regional finals.
“We have tough kids and we’re never out of it,” said Ryan Howard, Coppell head coach. “We’re always looking to get that next at-bat and it hadn’t been that way just as of now. This started back in August. These guys showed up with great attitudes and made no excuses. These are really mature, tough kids.”
That resilience has shined through plenty during the Cowboys’ resurgent postseason — the program was making just its second appearance in the regional semifinals since 2007 — where they’ve survived in close quarters against myriad state-ranked opposition. That remained the case on Friday behind a momentous sixth inning.
With two runners on and one out, junior Walker Polk scratched a run across on an RBI single to left field that scored sophomore TJ Pompey to trim the Keller lead to 5-3. That paved that way for Jeon’s heroics, as he took his fourth pitch from Indians reliever Ryan Smith and sent it towering over the left-field wall to plate three runs for the Cowboys’ first lead of the afternoon, 6-5.
“It got to a 2-1 count and I knew he had to come up with a fastball,” Jeon said. “I was just looking to see the ball well and drive it as hard as I could.
“… Afterwards, I actually barely even remember what happened. I just remember going crazy. It was nuts. Lots of energy. We have a great student section, and it felt great to get them and everyone in the dugout rallied up.”
The Cowboys fed off that energy the rest of the contest, including in another high-leverage sequence in the top of the seventh. With the tying run on third base with one out, Pompey, pitching in relief, induced two straight flyouts to the Coppell infield to seal the win and extend the Cowboys’ season for at least one more day.
“We come out here with a lot of confidence,” Jeon said. “We’ve played and beat a lot of good teams throughout the season. We just come out and compete, battle and do what we can to get these games over.”
The Cowboys’ late-game rally came during a ballgame where they were forced to play catch-up early and often. Keller struck for the game’s first run in the top of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Clayton Thomas and then swelled that lead to 4-0 one frame later on a three-run homer by Aidan Connors.
Senior Will Rodman settled in on the mound from there, tossing three scoreless innings and not allowing another hit before giving way to junior Will Boylan in the top of the sixth inning.
“Will has been our heart and soul all year long,” Howard said. “He shows up, throws well every game he plays and competes his heart. His teammates love him and there’s something to be said for a guy who can stay that consistent at this level.”
While Rodman steadied the tide, it took the Coppell bats some time to keep pace. The Cowboys loaded the bases in both the fourth and fifth innings but only managed to scratch across one run — a fielder’s choice by Sever — during that stretch. That included a contentious end to the fifth, where sophomore Bradley Castillo struck out looking on a call that drew the ire of Howard and assistant coach Armando Garza. Both were tossed after arguing with the umpire.
“Tough call on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded,” Howard said. “I didn’t think it went our way and I’m going to fight for our players. I thought our hitter had a great at-bat, fought and it didn’t go our way. Sometimes that happens. I wasn’t happy about it, especially at that point in the game, and I’m going to fight for our players.”
The Cowboys reciprocated that fight one inning later with a season-saving rally.
“There are opportunities you’re not able to build and sometimes that’s just baseball. The most important thing is that we took advantage of the big one,” Howard said. “David had a great swing to put us ahead in a big spot where tensions were high.”