NACOGDOCHES – Carpe Diem.
It is a saying that is on the back of the Malakoff Tigers hats and what they say when they break out of a huddle.
Following a 2-1 loss in Game 2 of the best-of-three regional semifinal series to the Woodville Eagles, the Tigers (34-7) seized their day and their opportunity with a 6-5 come-from-behind win in the deciding game to wrap up the series.
“We are a really good ball club and I know that,” Malakoff coach John Adair said. “They are a really scrappy club and it would be tough. The thing I told the kids Thursday night is they are chasing two. We have to remember that and it is hard to beat us two in a row. The way our kids battled, they never gave up.”
The No. 3-ranked Malakoff Tigers are scheduled to face the Cameron Yoe Yoemen (27-7) in the Region 3 finals. Game 1 will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at Whitney High School, Game 2 is Friday at Sam Houston State University. Game 3, if necessary, will be Saturday at 2 p.m. at Sam Houston State University.
“We graduated and had a big party and went home at 11 p.m. and got some sleep,” senior Riggin Smith said. “All of our goals as seniors was to play ball as seniors after graduation. We know that is not where we want to stop. Malakoff is used to going there and these young kids are taught never to quit. He (Adair) always pushes us and our boys are clutch when it matters.”
The win for Malakoff set a history making event for the Tigers.
“It sounds awesome because this is school history for us,” Adair said. “This is the first time to be in the regional final. We are so excited and I am so proud of the kids. At graduation after they got their diploma they put their baseball cap back on and that signaled to everyone there that we have unfinished business.”
The loss in Game 2 snapped an eight-game winning streak and a stretch of sweeps in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
With this being the final season for coach Adair, Smith had high praise for his coach. Adair is set to retire at the end of the season after 37 years of coaching.
“He doesn’t treat us just as players,” Smith said. “We are his kids and I have never seen a coach have our backs more than him. We can call him at any time of night and he is there guiding us no matter what. This is his last year, and I am glad it is with us for sure.”
Woodville 2, Malakoff 1
Woodville (30-8-1) opened the scoring in the first as Trey Hickman reached on a dropped third strike. Ethan Porter came in to score for the 1-0 lead.
With the bases loaded for the Eagles in the second, Malakoff starting pitcher Nathan Jones got Connor Risinger to ground out into a fielder’s choice for the third out of the inning.
Lane Ferguson would then add the Eagles final run in the third on a fielder’s choice as Trey Hickman made it 2-0.
Malakoff would add it’s only run in the top of the seventh as Wes Hustead smacked an RBI-double scoring courtesy runner Corey Phillips for the 2-1 finale.
“I saw a scrappy team and Nate struggled early,” Adair said.
Cole Standley, Jack Fowler and combined Risinger combined for a three-hitter on the mound for the Eagles. Standley gave up two hits with six strikeouts and four walks, while Fowler allowed one hit and one earned run with two walks in one inning of work.
Cole Gaddis, Jack Davis and Hustead had the three hits for the Tigers. Jones went two innings, allowing two runs on four hits with three strikeouts and two walks. One of the runs was earned.
Adair praised the play of reliever Judson Driskell as he went three and two thirds innings allowing no runs with four strikeouts and two walks.
“What a job Judson did today. We were able to win Game 3 because Judd pitched the way that he did not forcing us to use other guys,” Adair said. “If he doesn’t do what he did, we don’t win Game 3 because that is how important that was.”
Malakoff 6, Woodville 5
With the season on the line heading into the top of the seventh, Woodville held a 5-3 lead on the Tigers.
Brandon Nations opened up the scoring in the seventh with a single scoring Alan Benhardt for the 5-4 deficit.
With two outs in the inning, Jones singled to load the bases and then Smith hit a two-run RBI single scoring Gaddis and Nations for the 6-5 lead.
“It was rough and I try to stay even every day,” Smith said. “I am usually the guy who never gets nervous. I got to the plate with two outs and I get to first base and melted. I didn’t realize it was actually in there. I think this is the first time it has actually hit me.”
Adair then made a pitching change in the bottom of the seventh from Hustead to Benhardt came in and took down the Woodville side in order to end the game. Hustead came on in relief of Smith who started the game at pitcher.
The Eagles opened the scoring in the bottom of the second off Smith.
Ferguson doubled scoring Calan Wainright, who came around to score on the throw for the 1-0 lead.
Malakoff would tie the game at 1 on a sacrifice fly by Bryson Adair scoring Hustead.
With two outs in the inning, Gaddis was hit by a pitch and then Nations singled scoring Benhardt for the 2-1 lead.
In the top of the fourth, the Tigers would take a 3-1 lead as Benhardt singled scoring Hustead with two outs in the inning off Ferguson.
In the bottom half of the inning, Woodville continued its scrappy play as Ferguson doubled scoring Wainright for the 3-2 deficit.
“To be honest, I didn’t think they would be that scrappy,” Smith said. “I thought once we got to Game 3 and we started rolling, we got some runs on the board and I thought we had them. I wanted to be mad at their fans, but we would love to have them to. Their fans were alive for them the whole night and they didn’t give up.”
Adair said after pulling Smith in the fourth, he did not take it out on him and trusted the process.
“That is what I love about this team is every guy is not selfish,” Adair said. “They are all about the team and I came out to get the ball and Riggin said I love you anyways coach. They trust us and we trust them and it is paying off for us right now.”
The Eagles would tie the game at 3 in the bottom of the fifth as Hustead was called for a balk with the bases loaded.
Woodville would then take a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth on a ground out and a double by Standley scoring Darius Bean.
Benhardt went 2-for-3 with an RBI, a walk and two runs scored, while Nations went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Nations also had a stolen base.
Recording hits for the Tigers were Gaddis, Jones, Smith and Hustead. Smith, Jones, Hustead and Gaddis also had stolen bases.
Smith went four innings, allowing three runs on six hits with three walks. All of his runs were earned.
“I felt like it was fine,” Smith said. “I really just gave up two hard hits balls. They are good and put the ball in play. I had a hard time painting my corners, but other than that it worked out.”
Hustead went two innings, allowing two runs on three hits with two walks and one strikeout to pick up the win. Benhardt came on in relief throwing nine pitches for the save.