By Richard Greene
When given the opportunity to seize control of the District 7-3A third-place tiebreaker Friday night, the Decatur Eagles let it slip through their grasp in the bottom of the third inning.
A half inning later when a similar chance presented itself to the Bridgeport Bulls, they refused to let it get away.
The Bulls plated five runs with two outs in the top of the fourth inning to put themselves on the way to the playoffs with an 8-4 victory at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club.
“I’m proud of the way the kids came back,” said Bridgeport coach Ted Leps. “Our playoff experience really helped us tonight. You could see it in situations.”
Bridgeport (21-7), who dropped their district opener, rallied to win five of its last seven to earn the right to play District 8-3A runner-up Kennedale in the bi-district round of the playoffs next week. The Bulls went 3-0 down the stretch when facing elimination from the postseason race.
“We didn’t let our heads get down too far when we knew we weren’t playing to our full potential,” said Branon Huff, who singled home a run in the five-run fourth. “We’re starting to get it going.”
The loss ended Decatur’s season at 14-14. The Eagles started district play at 4-0 but dropped five of their final seven including Friday.
“We wanted to go to the playoffs, but it’s got to end sometime,” said Decatur senior pitcher Jeremy Adams. “It was a great group of seniors, and it was a lot of fun to play with them.”
Decatur coach Chris Carter said it was a tough way for the seniors to go out.
“These guys have been with me all the way through,” Carter said. “They did a fantastic job. They are a great group of kids.”
The Eagles had their chances early to capture the game and prolong their season.
Decatur scored a run in each of the first three innings and took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third on a RBI-single from Cain Lowe that drove Bridgeport starter Omar Martinez from the mound.
Reese Read came on in relief with one out and gave up an infield single to load the bases. But he got a pair of flyouts to end the inning and force Decatur to strand three runners. Decatur left seven runners on base in the first three innings.
“We couldn’t find a way to get that hit when we needed it,” Adams said.
The two flyouts to end the third started a stretch where Read retired 11 of the 12 batters he faced until the bottom of the seventh. Read pitched the final four and two-thirds, allowing one run — none earned — on three hits. He struck out five including the final batter of the game — Colby Medlin. He didn’t walk anyone.
“I felt like I needed to step up, throw strikes and not walk anyone,” Read said. “It was a lot earlier than I expected. I didn’t think I’d come in until the fifth or so.”
Read added that getting out of the jam in the bottom of the third gave the Bulls momentum going into the fourth.
With the Bulls trailing by a run, Damian Delgado worked a leadoff walk. Junior McLaughlin followed by laying down a bunt for a single to put two on with no one out. It was one of three times Bridgeport batters reached base off bunts.
“Junior’s bunt helped us and got us going,” Leps said. “That’s what we preach to our seven, eight and nine hitters, ‘get one base, somehow.’”
Adams retired the next two batters to get on the verge of getting out of the inning with the Eagles still holding the lead.
Against Alex Samples a pitch from Adams bounced short and got past the Eagles’ catcher Lowe to the backstop, allowing Delgado to race home and tie the game at 3-3.
Samples then hit a shot down the third-base line that Decatur third baseman Christian Carrillo made a diving stop on. He fired the ball across the diamond with a shot hop that first baseman Cody Barlow couldn’t pick. McLaughlin scored on the play to give Bridgeport the 4-3 lead.
Huff made it 5-3 smashing the next offering from Adams just inside the left-field line for a RBI-double.
“I knew he was going to throw a strike on the first pitch so I opened the zone and turned on it. It just stayed fair,” said Huff, who finished 2-for-5.
Bridgeport added two more runs in the inning with Dillon Waldrep’s RBI-single to right field, driving Adams from the mound.
The Decatur ace lasted three and two-thirds, allowing seven runs — two earned — on five hits. He struck out three and walked three — all in the fourth.
“We had some costly errors [in the fourth], but I lost control of the command that I had before,” Adams said. “It fell apart for me and the team.”
Carter added that Bridgeport did a good job of making things happen with runners on base.
“They got runners on base and got them home,” he said. “When you get two outs, you’ve got to bear down and get out of the inning.
“We made too many mistakes and it wound up getting us beat.”
Decatur caught a runner at the plate as Bridgeport attempted a double steal to end the top of the fourth but well after the damage had been done.
Trailing 8-3 entering their final at-bat, the Eagles managed to take advantage of a Bridgeport error to get a run on Lowe’s second RBI-hit of the night. But Read made sure it got no closer with a strikeout to send the Bulls on to the playoffs.