Runnels continued its playoff run Wednesday afternoon when the No. 22 seeded Raiders upset sixth-seeded Haynes Academy 7-2 in a Class 2A regional-round baseball playoff game at RHS.
“It went the way I thought it was going to go,” Runnels coach Tookie Johnson said. “Our guys never feel overwhelmed once we get to playoffs because of our (regular season) schedule.”
“They hit the ball really, really well,” Haynes Academy coach Steve Stropolo said. “Looks like they’re one of the hottest teams this late in the year.”
The Raiders (18-11) took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when right fielder Josh Sparks blasted a two-run homer to left field after a lead-off double by center fielder Hampton Hudson. The Raiders put the leadoff batter aboard five of their six at-bats.
“Josh has been the secret weapon for us,” Johnson said. “He sits at the bottom of order, but he’s got some crazy power. If he runs into one, he’s going to hit it a long way. As soon he hit it, when it went up that high, I thought it had a chance. He really came through today when we needed him.”
“I had a pretty good feeling, but I didn’t know that it was going to be out by that much,” Sparks said.
Haynes (20-7) answered with a run in the top of fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by left fielder Daniel Vogel. The Yellow Jackets’ momentum was quickly halted when pitcher Kirk Hanson was tagged out in between first and second, turning Haynes’ potential rally into an inning-ending double play.
Runnels picked up another run in the bottom of the fourth off an RBI single by shortstop Johnny Johnson to extend the lead to 3-1.
Johnson finished 3-for-3 with an RBI, while Sparks finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a home run.
The Raiders exploded for four runs on six hits in the bottom of the fifth inning. Catcher Bobby Johnson and third baseman Thomas Meyers led off with back-to-back singles. Two batters later, Sparks drove in the first run of the inning with an RBI single. Second baseman Ridge Ory followed with a two-RBI double, and first baseman Brent Hoeprich added another RBI single to give the Raiders a 7-1 lead.
“The two-run homer was a big blow for them,” Stropolo said. “We hung in there for awhile, and then they started getting some singles that were just out of reach.”
Runnels amassed 13 hits, while Haynes mustered only three hits, one each from Connor Wolfe, Kirk Hanson and Dawson Eiserloh.
“When you can hit throughout the lineup, that’s one of the keys to winning the game,” Johnson said.
Haynes added one run in the sixth inning, cutting the lead to 7-2, but it was too little, too late.
Riggs March (5-2) picked up the complete-game win for the Raiders.
March allowed no earned runs on three hits with four strikeouts and one walk.
“I was off a lot, and I decided today that my defense was going to help me out,” March said. “I didn’t get many strikeouts like last week, but I just battled in there.”
“He (March) is not going to strike out 20, but he’s going to keep you in the game,” Johnson said. “He’s not going to give the other team anything for free. He’s going to keep them off balance, and that’s the key.”
Kirk Hanson (9-1) took the loss for the Yellow Jackets, pitching four innings. He allowed two earned runs on six hits with no strikeouts and a walk. Josh Gebo pitched in relief, allowing four earned runs on seven hits.
“Their pitcher is used to being in there and battling, and that’s exactly what they did,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think it was going to come easy.”
Runnels’ playoff ride continues next week against third-seeded Riverside Academy in the quarterfinals.
“So many people get caught up in rankings, and we weren’t ranked that great,” Sparks said.“We took that as a challenge. A No. 22 seed is not supposed to make it to the quarterfinals.”