By Greg Wille- Temple Daily Telegram
WEST — Belton baseball coach Mark Krueger said there’s a reason he pitched sophomore right-hander Chase King in the Dallas Highland Park tournament and also against Round Rock and Hewitt Midway.
It turned out to be Game 3 of the Tigers’ Class 6A bi-district playoff series against Cedar Hill on Saturday afternoon at Trojan Field.
King efficiently pitched six innings of one-run ball to help stake Belton to a 7-1 lead, and the Tigers held off the Longhorns’ comeback bid in the seventh to secure a 7-5 victory and advance to the area round.
“We pitched Chase in some crucial games and did that to get him good experience for something like this,” Krueger said. “We have a great defense and he just pitched to our advantage.”
A control pitcher, King (4-3) didn’t register a strikeout until the seventh.
“Everything was working good today and our defense was on it,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I ran out of gas, but I was a little tired.”
After being edged 1-0 in Thursday’s series opener, Belton (14-15-3) — District 8-6A’s fourth seed — responded Friday to win 8-2 and then combined King’s pitching with sharp defense and opportunistic offense to eliminate 7-6A champion Cedar Hill (14-10-1).
“This means a lot,” King said, “especially since we had that tough loss and came back to beat them two games.”
Aaron Krueger, a Temple College signee who had played stellar defense at third base, relieved King in the seventh and eventually escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Tony Gonzalez to end it and set off a swarming celebration by his Tigers teammates.
Belton’s reward is an area-round battle next week against Flower Mound Marcus, whose Marauders beat Plano West twice Saturday for a 2-1 series victory. Arrangements likely will be set today.
“It’s a very nice feeling. I’m just proud of our team. They came and competed all three games,” said Mark Krueger, who joked that his “heart monitor was at 129 on that last pitch.”
Belton’s Dylan Blomquist hit an RBI single in the second inning, but Cedar Hill matched it on Javon Cain’s RBI triple to right-center in the third. The Tigers grabbed a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Preston Rozner singled and scored on Hunter Teplansky’s sharp two-out single to right.
Belton recognized that Cedar Hill’s outfielders did not possess strong throwing arms, and the Tigers took advantage by challenging them repeatedly.
“We were going to be very aggressive on the base paths,” Mark Krueger said. “Once we had somebody on second, we were going to put pressure on their guys to make a play.”
Belton widened the gap in the fifth by batting around and scoring three runs to make it 5-1. Shawn Butler and Drew Cook hit back-to-back RBI singles to drive in Tannor Fischer and Reese Perry, respectively, and Butler scored on Blomquist’s bases-loaded walk. The Tigers then gained important insurance with Perry’s RBI single in the sixth and Teplansky’s sacrifice fly in the seventh for a 7-1 lead.
They certainly needed it during Cedar Hill’s final at-bat. King retired the leadoff man but allowed consecutive singles to Brandon Farrell, Matthew Garibay and Josh Howard that made it 7-2 before Ethan Magdaleno struck out. After King walked Kamdyn Benjamin to load the bases, Belton’s coach made the pitching switch.
“I just wanted to change it up. They saw Chase through the order four times and that’s an advantage to the hitters,” Mark Krueger said.
Aaron Krueger didn’t have immediate success against the Longhorns, who sliced Belton’s lead to 7-5 on Cain’s bases-loaded walk, shortstop Teplansky’s run-scoring error and Roy Hernandez’s RBI infield single. But with the bases loaded and the tying run on second, Aaron Krueger got Gonzalez to swing through a big-bending curve, and the Tigers survived.