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'We were here in 2023 to win it': Harleton's state baseball state title no longer out of reach

Wildcats ride six-run second inning to eventual 10-5 win for Class 2A championship

By Buck Ringgold | Photos by Andrew McCulloch

ROUND ROCK, Texas — Not even a lengthy weather delay was going to deter Harleton’s goal of winning its first baseball state title.

The Wildcats scored six runs in the top of the second and then endured a delay of nearly two hours to remain in control of Thursday’s UIL Class 2A championship game, as they defeated Shiner, 10-5, at the Dell Diamond.

Thursday’s win was the first championship in program history for Harleton (37-1) in its fourth trip to the UIL state tournament. The Wildcats had dropped down from 3A in the offseason.

“It feels amazing; we hadn’t been here since 2015,” said Harleton left fielder Carson Wallace, who had two hits and three RBIs as he was named the game’s MVP. “We didn’t win it then, we didn’t win it in 2005, but we were here in 2023 to win it and we did, and it feels great.”

Thursday’s game was delayed in the third inning when lightning was spotted in the area, with Harleton leading, 6-0. When the game finally resumed after an hour and 39 minutes, Shiner started making a comeback, scoring three runs in the top of the third to cut its deficit in half.

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But it was a temporary swing of momentum, as Harleton swiped it right back with a run in the fourth, two more in the fifth and one more in the sixth for a commanding 10-3 advantage.

Harleton began its pivotal top of the second with back-to-back singles. A walk to Braden Hopkins then loaded the bases.

Shiner pitcher Drew Wenske got the next batter on an infield pop-up. But that proved to be a temporary respite.

The following batter, Peyton Murray, lifted a single to right field, scoring the game’s first run. Another run then came across on a wild pitch, making it 2-0.

Cameron Johnson made it 3-0 with an RBI single. Harleton added another run on a fielder’s choice before Carson Wallace put an exclamation point on the inning with a two-out two-run single to right.

“It felt great,” Wallace said of the six-run inning. “Our six-hole (Braden Hopkins) started us off and we just went from there. Once we started going, it was awesome then and there was no stopping us.

“I felt like we had room to give up seven or even eight more runs and we would still be good; it felt great.”

Shiner started to make a comeback in the third after the game resumed. The Comanches got back-to-back two-out RBI hits, a one-run single from Kennan Hailey followed by a two-run hit from Carson Schuette, to cut Harleton’s lead in half, 6-3.

The Wildcats answered with a run in the fourth, an RBI single from Gage Shirts. Harleton extended the lead to 9-3 in the fifth as Shawn Booth and Tanner Tate each scored on wild pitches.

In the top of the sixth, Shirts led things off with a double before scoring on a double from Wallace for the Wildcats’ final run.

Wallace went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs.

“(I wanted to) do my job and advance runners,” Wallace said.

Shirts and Murray also had two-hit games.

Harleton starting pitcher Dylan Armstrong gave up three runs - two earned - on five hits over five innings to get the win. He walked two and struck out a pair.

Braden Hopkins - whose two-run double in the bottom of the seventh put the Wildcats in the championship game with a 4-3 semifinal win against Collinsville on Wednesday - pitched the final two innings.

Ryan Peterson, Wenske and Hailey each went 2-for-4 for Shiner, which scored its last two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Schuette had three RBIs as well.

Last season, Harleton didn’t even win a postseason game, as the Wildcats were swept by White Oak in a best-of-three bi-district series.

But what a difference a year makes.

“Going from 3A to 2A is a big jump, but after losing last year, one of our players told our seniors last year we were going to go win it next year and here we are; we won it,” Wallace said.