By Bryan Sutcliffe
Special to the Press
For the second time this postseason the Prosper Eagles rebounded from an early 1-0 series deficit to capture a series. As sweet as the bidistrict round win over Highland Park was for Prosper, their regional quarterfinal win came against a district rivals they went winless against in the regular season, the Wakeland Wolverines.
Game 1 - Prosper 2, Wakeland 5
FRISCO - For the second time in the playoffs, Prosper coach Rick Carpenter started senior Aaron Varden against the opponent’s ace in game one of a three-game series. He was immediately staked to a 2-0 lead as the red hot Eagle offense that had scored 28 runs in their prior two games went to work against Wakeland starter Austin Gehle.
Through five innings Varden scattered seven hits and allowed two runs. His luck ran out in the sixth, as Wakeland broke a 2-2 tie by reaching base with the first six hitters. Three would score on a passed ball as well as RBI hits by Brodi Smith and pinch hitter Matt Deacon.
Game 2 Friday Prosper 12 Wakeland 4
PROSPER - The Eagles returned home trailing in the series but confident in the knowledge that their fate rested in the hands of their ace, Brandon Gilson. Gilson quickly found his team trailing 1-0 in the top of the first after leadoff man Dan Harrington reached on an error and scored after a passed ball, a sacrifice bunt and a suicide squeeze bunt by Wakeland’s leading hitter, Grant Devore. The run was unearned, but the importance of that run would be fleeting.
Wakeland coach Barry Rose opted to save his number two starter Clay Foster for a potential third game, so it was Dan Harrington getting the start for the Wolverines. Prosper needed little time figuring Harrington out, as after a leadoff groundout the next five hitters reached including a two RBI double by Lance Brooks that gave Prosper a 2-1 lead.
The advantage expanded quickly with senior Zach Kubala smacking a bases loaded triple that Wakeland’s staff argued had been bobbled and caught in right field. After about a four-minute discussion the umpires ruled that the ball hit the wall prior to being pulled in and that the three plated runs would stand.
From that point Gilson held the Wakeland lineup in check. He lead Wakeland 6-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth where the Eagle offense put the game out of reach.
They turned four hits, a walk and two Wakeland errors into another five runs. Senior Aaron Maxey and Lance Brooks had RBIs in the inning, and three runs scored in the frame on defensive miscues to push the Prosper lead to 11-2.
Wakeland’s Brodi Smith hit a two-run home run in the sixth, but it was too little too late.
An RBI single by junior Tyler Webb in the bottom of the sixth gave Prosper their final 12-4 margin.
Gilson picked up win number nine and is now unbeaten in his last eight starts (7-0). He allowed two earned runs on five hits while walking four and striking out five.
Game 3 Prosper 5 Wakeland 4 (8 innings)
MCKINNEY - Both teams’ coaches set their rotations up to ensure a battle of the teams’ number two starters in a potential game three. That decisive game was played at McKinney’s Boyd High School and pitted the Eagles’ Jace Vines against Wakeland’s Clay Foster. Foster was the winning pitcher in Wakeland’s 14-7 win at Prosper during the regular season, while Vines didn’t pitch against Wakeland this year.
The designated home team, Prosper, watched Vines control Wakeland’s offense. Vines retired six of the first seven batters to give the Prosper offense a chance to take the early lead.
Eagle senior Lance Brooks showed his appreciation for his pitcher’s early effectiveness by launching a solo homer on the first pitch of the second inning for a 1-0 Prosper lead. The home run was the second of the year for Brooks, who has hit both in the playoffs.
Senior Alex Nelon, getting his first start of the playoffs, extended Prosper’s lead to two with an RBI groundout in the fourth.
Vines ran into some trouble in the fifth caused by the sun. Senior Money Hunter lost track of a leadoff Seth Mullis fly ball in the sun. That runner would be wiped out at third on a slick play by seniors Brandon Grudzielanek and Lance Brooks, but the Wolverines would subsequently load the bases with two outs for Dan Harrington. Harrington lined a 2-2 pitch into center field to tie the game at 2.
Cameron Yates then lifted another fly ball to right and once again the sun prohibited a catch, and two more runs scored to give Wakeland a 4-2 lead in the fifth. All four runs in the inning were unearned.
Things started looking bleak for Prosper after Clay Foster coasted through the Eagles’ top three hitters in the fifth. Vines responded very well, keeping the Eagles within two as they entered the bottom of the sixth. Lance Brooks and Steele Walker drew walks to start the inning and send Foster from the game. He was replaced by CJ Muir. Zach Kubala recorded an RBI single with one out to cut the Wakeland lead to 4-3, but just as important for Kubala was his takeout slide at second to thwart a potential inning double play on Alex Nelon’s ground ball. The relay throw failed to beat Nelon, and Money Hunter scored the tying run.
With new life, Jace Vines retired the first two hitters of the seventh but then walked the speedy Dan Harrington. Cameron Yates then singled on the next pitch to move the go-ahead run to third and bring Rick Carpenter out to take the ball. He gave it to Zach Kubala.
Kubala hadn’t pitched in a game since May 5 after suffering from arm injuries. He retired Grant Devore, whose attempt to beat out a bunt for a game-tying hit was beaten out by Kubala’s throw to first to end the threat.
Prosper appeared a near lock to end the game in the bottom of the seventh after senior Aaron Maxey singled and Tyler Webb reached after Muir was unable to field a bunt down the first base line. Yates made a full-count pitch to Brandon Grudzielanek to induce a double play, but courtesy runner Jake Kiedinger moved to third on the play for Lance Brooks. Brooks fell behind 0-2 in the count and then slapped a grounder to deep third where Cameron Yates ranged far to his left to get a glove on it. He fired high to first pulling first baseman Johnny Gonzales off the bag, but Gonzales laid the tag down just in time to send the game to extra innings.
Kubala was terrific in the eighth, sitting Wakeland down in order on a ground ball and a pair of strikeouts. Prosper would have another chance to earn a walkoff win, and this time they’d seal the deal. Senior Money Hunter, looking for a chance at redemption after his hard-luck fielding issues in Wakeland’s four-run fifth, earned a one out walk from new pitcher Cameron Yates. He moved to second on a Kubala groundout and to third on a passed ball. After an Alex Nelon walk extended the inning, senior Blaine Moore, the ninth place hitter was given a chance to repeat the heroics he showed in laying down a walkoff suicide squeeze bunt against Heritage. He faced CJ Muir, who had returned to the mound against Nelon after playing third while Yates took the mound. Muir got ahead of Moore at 0-2, but Moore poked the next pitch into center field to bring Hunter home and send the Eagles to the fourth round.
Kubala earned the win for his 1 1/3 innings of hitless, scoreless relief to even his record at 3-3 on the year. Kubala struck out two of the four hitters he faced. Jace Vines picked up a no-decision after 6 2/3 innings allowing 4 unearned runs on five hits and a walk. He struck out four.
Prosper (19-16) now meets the Whitehouse Wildcats (28-7), the state’s sixth-ranked team, in the 4A region 2 semifinals. Whitehouse is unbeaten in the playoffs with a 6-0 record and features a talented one-two pitching rotation in Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Cheatham. The Wildcats are in the region 2 semifinal for the second straight year. They were swept by eventual state champion Rockwall-Heath last year. This stage represents the deepest playoff run for Prosper since the Eagles won the 1984 class A state championship. The teams will play a best-of-three series at Richards Park in Waxahachie. Game one will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday with game two Friday at 7 p.m. If necessary, game three begins at 2 p.m. Saturday. The series will be carried live at Sportsgram.net.
Bryan Sutcliffe is the play-by-play voice of Prosper athletics for the Sportsgram Network