SULPHUR — Brother Martin will have to wait a little longer to end its state championship drought.
Catholic’s Bo Branch hit an RBI single down the left field line in the bottom of the seventh inning and end Brother Martin’s season with a 1-0 loss in the Class 5A semifinals Friday afternoon at McMurry Park.
“That was just a great high school baseball game on both sides,” Brother Martin coach Greg Wisniewski said. “(Branch) got the base hit through and they made the plays.”
The Crusaders, who were seeking their first baseball state title since Wisniewski led the team to a crown in 1996, finished the season 24-12.
It was their first trip to the semifinals since 2002.
Catholic (37-3), ranked No. 11 in the country by MaxPreps, advances to Saturday’s championship game to play Friday’s Barbe-Sulphur winner.
The game was a pitcher’s duel between Brother Martin’s Corey Gaconi and Catholic’s Ross Massey.
Gaconi (2-3) scattered six hits and had four strikeouts.
“Corey was outstanding,” Wisniewski said. “I thought he did a great job. He mixed up his pitches and did everything we asked and more. I can’t say enough about him.”
Massey, a Tulane signee, was even more impressive. He gave up three hits and had eight strikeouts to improve to 11-0. He came into the game with a 1.19 ERA and lowered it with the shutout. For the season, he now has 75 strikeouts in 68 innings.
“That was just two very good high school arms,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “Both are going to pitch at the next level and they went at each other. It was like a seven-round title fight with two big guys going at it. Whoever struck last was going to get the win.”
That guy happened to be Branch, the Bears’ No. 9 hitter, who called it “by far” the biggest hit of his career.
“Coach gave me the slash sign and I was able to find the hole,” said Branch, a courtesy runner on Catholic’s state title team in 2013. “It feels amazing to get back to compete for what we have been trying to achieve all year.”
Branch’s single came just moments after a leadoff double to start the inning by Brandon Fairbanks, who entered the game as a pinch hitter.
Bass had total confidence in his junior.
“It’s been a number of guys throughout the year,” Bass said. “From the leadoff guy to the No. 25 guy on the roster, everyone has stepped up. Tonight it was Brandon Fairbanks’ night to come in and get a huge hit.”
Brother Martin had its chances, despite not getting its first hit until the sixth inning when Joel Bergeron reached on an infield single. Kyler Johnston was then hit by a pitch and Blair Frederick singled to load the bases, but Catholic Massey worked his way out of the jam.
Brother Martin had a chance to score in the fourth as well, despite not having a hit at that point.
Mason Bonnafons hit what looked like a routine grounder back to Massey. But Massey threw the ball well over the head of his first baseman and Bonnafons reached third.
But Bonnafons was caught in a rundown on a grounder to short by Frederick and Frederick was stranded at second to end the inning.
“We had a couple opportunities and we didn’t get it done, but that’s baseball,” said Wisniewski, in his 19th season.
It was the final high school game in a Brother Martin uniform for Gaconi, Johnston, Andrew Larmeu, Jonathan Parker, Kevin Plunkett, Luke Bernard, Parker Oubre, Doug Fair, Connor Fallon and Jacob Parker.
“They have been through a lot the last several years,” Wisniewski said.
“They have competed and worked hard and led and I couldn’t ask for anything else from them.”