SULPHUR — John Curtis started Saturday night’s state baseball title game like a team destined to cap the school year with a sixth title in the past seven months.
But Curtis fizzled the rest of the way and suffered a 6-4 loss to Evangel Christian in the Class 3A championship game at McMurry Park.
“They fought their butts off,” Patriots coach Johnny Curtis said. “You have to credit Evangel. They made some good really good swings in crucial times. I think it was a gutsy performance by both teams.”
Curtis finished 31-7.
Evangel (28-8-1) won its second straight title after claiming the 2A crown last season.
“It feels great,” Evangel coach Tim Hulett said. “Every state championship is different. Last year was a great game to send the seniors off, and this year we had a lot of seniors as well. It’s good for them to reach their goal and win this game.”
Early on, it looked as if it would be Curtis winning its first title since 2002.
The Patriots scored first. After Daniel Cabrera walked, Calvin Linden followed with what should have been a routine out to the pitcher, but an errant throw scored Cabrera. After Jacob Bordelon walked, Harry Chairs blasted a three-run homer over the left-field wall to give the Patriots a 4-0 lead.
“You have to tip your hats to John Curtis,” Hulett said. “They came out and were ready to play. They put a four-spot on us really quick, and it really put our backs against the wall. The guys came into the dugout and you just see that deer-in-the-headlights look. It was at that point as a coaching staff that we were saying, ‘This guy is not going to beat us; this guy is not going to beat us.’ Then all of a sudden we got a spark and scored some runs. Then it was a ballgame.”
That spark came in the third inning when the Eagles sent 10 batters to the plate. Chairs, who started on the mound, gave up a double between a pair of walks before being replaced by Colin Perez. Ryne Ray, named Most Outstanding Player, hit a two-run double, and Chance DeFriend followed with a two-run single to tie it. John Michael Boswell then belted an RBI single to give Evangel a lead that it would not relinquish.
The damage could have been worse, but Curtis junior left fielder Hunter Dale made a highlight-reel, over-the-shoulder catch to end the inning.
Dale, a star safety on the football team, made another spectacular grab to end the sixth. He collided with center fielder Chairs on the play and was injured momentarily before limping off the field.
“Unbelievable,” Curtis said. “Those were great plays that kept us in the game. Hunter has done that throughout the playoffs.”
But Evangel got a defensive gem of its own in the sixth when Curtis threatened to retake the lead. The Patriots had the bases loaded when Dylan Robinson hit a drive to center that Austin Stegall ran down to end the inning.
“We had them on the ropes there in the sixth and had a really good line drive, and the guy made a great play,” Curtis said. “(On Friday), our guy made a great play. That’s the game of baseball.”
Evangel added an insurance run in the seventh on Hunter Shaw’s sacrifice fly.
Curtis had one last chance, getting a pair of walks in its last at-bat before Brooks Bryan got a strikeout to end it.
“What a great job Brooks Bryan did on the mound,” Hulett said. “He gave up one run the entire year. I know he was getting tired. We had him up both days a lot. He probably threw about 100 pitches even though he was only in the game for a couple of innings.”
The trio of starter Austin McWhiney, Shane Meirs and Bryan held Curtis to four hits.
After Myles followed Chair’s first inning homer with a single, the Patriots didn’t get another hit until Linden’s fifth-inning single. Chairs, who is slated to play at McNeese State next season, also singled in the sixth.
Chairs allowed just two hits but walked two in the third before being replaced.
“To be honest, I thought (Chairs) did a good job on the mound,” Curtis said. “I may have went a little too quick in pulling him. He had some injuries earlier in the year, and I didn’t know if he had the stamina. Colin came in and, once he found his groove, he did a great job.”
Chairs and Perez were two of eight seniors looking to bring another championship to the school that won titles in cross country, football, indoor and outdoor track and softball this year. The other six seniors are Linden, Mossy Mueller, Dylan Robinson, Evan Hileman, Zack Tripp and Nick Studzinski.
“The last two years were two disappointing losses early in the playoffs,” Curtis said. “These guys have shown great poise and effort throughout the season. A 31-7 record isn’t so bad. These guys have really put a mark on our program, and these younger guys have some big shoes to fill.”