\AUSTIN — The Rusk Eagles extended their stay in Austin by doubling up Sinton, 6-3, in a UIL Class 4A State Semi-final game that was played on a 90-degree afternoon at UFCU Disch-Falk Field Wednesday.
Rusk will go up against Texarkana Pleasant Grove at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at UFCU Disch-Falk in the state championship game. The Pirates (34-8) run ruled Stephenville, 13-0 (5 innings) early Wednesday afternoon to qualify for the state championship tilt.
The Eagle-Pirate contest was bound at two-all after the first inning as Rusk-ace JD Thompson and the Pirates' starter, Wyatt Wiatrek, were a little shaky early on.
The Red and Black held a precarious 4-3 edge after four complete, and that is where things stood until Rusk (28-7) added two huge insurance runs in the top of the seventh to knock the Pirates (31-5), the Region IV champions and the top-ranked Class 4A team in Texas, against the ropes.
Thompson (13-1), who has verbally committed to Vanderbilt, recorded the win on the mound after going 6.1 innings and reaching the 115-pitch mark. He allowed three runs, all earned, off of four hits. Thompson fanned six Pirates and walked three.
Mason Cirkel came in to collect the final-two outs, needing just seven pitches.
Rusk scored what ultimately became the winning run in the fourth inning after Zach Blackmon, one of five seniors on the Eagle squad, led off with a single into left field.
Blackmon advanced to second on a well-executed sacrifice bunt by Lane Gilchrest, who is also a senior.
With Blackmon now on third base, following a balk call on Sinton-reliever Braeden Brown, Will Dixon drew a walk to keep things rolling for the Red and Black.
A ground out to second by Bryce Lenard was such that a Sinton infielder was forced to get Dixon out a second, which enabled Lenard to race in from third — Lenard, who led Rusk at the plate by going 2-4, was safe at first on the fielder's choice. The run gave Rusk a 4-2 lead at that point, although the Pirates came back in the bottom half of the frame to plate a run of their own.
And while Wade Williams blasted a double in the first inning that drove in two runs, and Dixon stroked a two-base hit, several Eagles did the so-called “little things” that made a huge difference in the outcome.
In the final inning, Landon Gates and Thompson got aboard by being hit by pitches. With two outs, Brett Rawlinson and Blackmon came up with base hits to drive in courtesy runner Trey Devereaux and Thompson.
After Rene Galvan led off the fifth by reaching base on Rusk's lone error of the day, Eagle catcher Gilchrest was able to nab Galvan, who was the tying run at that time, attempting to steal second base, which negated Sinton getting the lead-off hitter on base.
In the second inning, Gilchrest hit a base hit to left that came with two outs and came in to score on an infield error by the Pirates later in the frame.
Cirkel battled a fierce sun in right field for most of the afternoon and made four put outs, which wasn't easy to do.
Tarrant Sunday and Thompson each had a base hit for the Eagles.
Rusk's state tournament appearance was their first in school history.