NACOGDOCHES – It was a pitching gem from Malakoff's Alan Benhardt in Game 1 Thursday in the Class 3A, Region 3 semifinals.
In the 4-0 victory over the Woodville Eagles, Benhardt threw 85 pitches over a complete game in which he struck out 10 batters and allowed three hits. He had no walks on the mound to give Malakoff a 1-0 best-of-three series lead.
“It is the least amount of pitches I have thrown in a full game,” Benhardt said. “I am feeling really good about that and had everything working. I shook off one pitch today and I threw the curve ball and they hit it. I just have to trust coach (Tyler) Wilbanks a little more because they know what they are doing when they are scouting.”
Malakoff head coach John Adair, who is set to retire at the end of this season, praised Benhardt on his performance.
“He’s just been getting better and better,” Adair said. “We didn’t have him until the next to last district game, so he’s a pretty fresh arm. Every outing, he’s getting a little stronger. It’s exciting and good to see.”
Game 2 of the best-of-three semifinals is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday back at Nacogdoches High School. Game 3 will be 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2, if necessary.
The winner faces either the Cameron Yoe Yoemen or Buna Cougars in the Region 3 finals next week.
The No. 3-ranked Tigers (33-6) big inning came in the bottom of the first off Woodville pitcher Connor Risinger.
Bryson Adair, a Sam Houston State signee, singled with one out in the bottom of the first. After a steal of second, Cole Gaddis forced a walk as the two then pulled off a double steal to take away a double play chance.
Brandon Nations then made sure they would pay for it as he singled to score Adair for the 1-0 lead.
Malakoff's catcher Jack Davis drove in Gaddis and Nations came in on an errant throw by the left fielder for the 3-0 lead.
“Having an inning like that, that’s just what I was telling the kids, getting three or four runs in the first inning, it can set the tone for the whole ball game,” Adair said.
The final run came in the bottom of the third as Davis hit a single to shortstop that drove in Nations for the 4-0 finale.
Behind solid play from the defense, Benhardt allowed hits in the first, fifth and seventh inning. The final hit came from Lane Ferguson, before Trotter Moses lined out to center fielder Riggin Smith to end the game.
““Pretty much everything was working,” Benhardt said. “It was one of those special nights where I had all four pitches working. It just felt great dealing out there.
“I love playing for this team because I know we have the best defense in the state of Texas. They keep the energy up. They make the big plays when they need to. I just love playing for them.”
Malakoff has now won eight straight and swept every series so far. Woodville is 29-7-1 overall, and had a four game winning streak snapped with the loss.
“It is huge and they are on a roll,” Adair said. “They are a scrappy ball club and I love their coaches attitude because he gets after it. It goes back to his kids and they play hard and we had an answer for them at the plate tonight.”
Nations ended the night 2-for-3 with a double, a stolen base, an RBI and a run scored, while Davis went 2-for-3 with two RBI. Benhardt and Adair each had a hit in the win.
NOTE: You can read more about Saturday’s action in the Tuesday edition of the Athens Daily Review.