Friday’s rematch between Plano and Plano East typified everything about the first five weeks of the District 6-6A baseball schedule.
With just two weeks remaining in conference play, seven teams are still alive in postseason contention. Of the 14 home-and-home series played between those programs, 10 have resulted in 1-1 splits.
The district’s back-and-forth nature hasn’t afforded much breathing room for anyone, and that remained the case on Friday as East held a four-run lead through five innings only to watch its crosstown rivals catch fire.
The Wildcats outscored the Panthers 6-1 over the final three innings to keep their postseason hopes afloat following a 7-6 victory. The eight-inning affair drew the two teams even at 5-5 in the district standings — good for a tie for fifth place and one game behind the third-place stalemate between Plano West and Flower Mound.
“We lost to Marcus twice, beat Lewisville twice and it’s been splits everywhere else. You’ve got to at least split if you want to stay in it,” said Rick Cremer, Plano head coach. “We’re in it, so is East, so is West, and it’s probably going to come down to that last week and me needing to read the tiebreaker rules. I’m just glad we fought tonight.”
In Friday’s case, a 6-6 tie was broken in the top of the eighth inning thanks to an RBI single from senior Jackson Peters to score junior Troy Piesker, who singled earlier in the frame. At the start of Peters’ at-bat, the umpire called a balk on East senior Jack Lubow, which advanced Piesker into scoring position.
“We had a hit-and-run on where we got lucky. My runner didn’t see it — he did a delay steal, which theoretically should have been it, but we caught a break and the next pitch their lefty had been rushing a bit, the umpire was on top of it and called a balk,” Cremer said. “When you get lucky like that, you’ve got to capitalize and Peters did. He put the bat on the ball, forced them to make a play and they didn’t. That’s how it is in this district. It’s one play here and there.”
The rest was left to Plano senior Jacob Prokarym, who worked around a one-out single by East senior Jake Jennings in the bottom of the eighth and struck out the next two Panthers to seal the win. Immediately after the game, while celebrating with his teammates, Prokarym had a crown placed over his head by Peters.
The southpaw earned the win on the mound after pitching four innings in relief — he held East to just one run on three hits along with eight strikeouts during that stretch.
“I brought [Prokarym] in and he rejuvenated us a bit,” Cremer said. “He’s got good stuff. When he came in and they saw he was on, I think that sparked us a bit.”
Prokarym’s pitching afforded a cushion for a Plano offense that came to life after mustering just one run on four hits in five innings against East senior Ben Baker-Livingston. As his night came to a close after 98 pitches thrown through five frames, the Wildcats had more success against the bullpen with six runs on seven hits over the final three innings of the game.
“It’s how every night in this district is going to be,” said Jordan Byrd, East head coach. “We had shots here and there and they did too, and they happened to execute a couple more than we did.”
Top 6th: Oh my has the momentum in this one swung. Pitching change for East, and Plano pounces for 5 runs, including this 2-run single by Troy Piesker to give the Wildcats a 6-5 lead on the Panthers. 2 outs. pic.twitter.com/anng7XDojC— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) April 17, 2021
Trailing 5-1 through five innings, Plano found new life behind five runs scored in the top of the sixth. The Wildcats sent 10 batters to the plate and totaled four hits — highlighted by a two-run single by Piesker for a 6-5 lead. Peters and junior Dennis Sutton plated runs earlier in the frame, and sophomore Kyle Bade was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded prior to Piesker’s big hit.
“We were in a good spot. We made the pitches we wanted to make and hit the spots we wanted to hit, but they just did a good job of getting it to fall,” Byrd said.
The Panthers pulled even at 6-6 a half-inning later after junior Caleb Bergman scored on a wild pitch. Bergman went 4-of-5 on the night and scored three runs, two coming in the third and fourth innings as part of a five-run surge by East.
After Plano opened the contest with a 1-0 lead courtesy of an RBI single from senior Logan Anderson, East responded with two runs in the third inning and three in the fourth for a 5-1 advantage. Jennings and senior Colton Shaw logged back-to-back RBI at-bats in the third, senior Patrick Wheelis plated a run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, and senior Zach Esquivel scored a pair after doubling to right field.
“It’s just about executing the plan,” Byrd said. “The games are loud and intense, and will be every night, so it’s just about getting our guys to stay calm and remember the plan, execute it and not try to do too much.”
End 4th: Plano East 5, Plano 1That's 5 runs in the last 2 innings for the Panthers. Zach Esquivel with the hit of the night so far, ripping a 2-run double to right field with 2 outs in the frame. pic.twitter.com/Z2KKpqZYFF— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) April 17, 2021
Although the Wildcats’ response wouldn’t come for a couple more innings, Cremer lauded a 10-pitch at-bat in the second inning by senior Reese Miller as a tone-setter for Plano, which weathered a 7-3 loss to East on Tuesday to force a series split.
“It’s nerve-racking in this district,” Cremer said. “Coach Byrd does an excellent job with that East team. Those guys can hit and play defense. They’ve got some very talented kids so I feel very lucky to get out of this series with a split. That’s the most talented East team I’ve seen since I got here in 2011.”
The Wildcats return to the diamond at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when they visit third-place Flower Mound. That same time, the Panthers will host Coppell.