Ponies split with Navarro
As the Region XIV Conference Tournament draws near, the Panola Ponies’ baseball team continues to be a conundrum within a puzzle. In the first game against the conference-leading Navarro Bulldogs Saturday, the Ponies looked the part of conference champions. Starting pitcher Gavin Williamson, who starred on the mound for the Carthage Bulldogs, pitched brilliantly in the overtime win. Freshman catcher Jacob Blissett, another Carthage product, delivered two clutch hits. Shortstop Trevin Sonnier anchored an airtight defense for the Ponies, who came away with a 5-3 win after the Bulldogs tied the game 2-2 on a controversial play in the bottom of the 7th.
Revenge is sweet. March 2 Williamson struggled againstPK the Bulldogs, again in Corsicana. Saturday, he faced off against Navarro ace Lukas Schiraldi, who has signed with the UT Longhorns for next year. Williamson controlled the game with a fastball as lively as Schiraldi’s, scattering 6 hits and striking out 3 to earn his sixth win. Robbie Petty relieved in the 8th to earn the save.
With the score tied 1-all after four innings, the Ponies’ speedy third baseman Matt Spruill tripled down the right field line. Blissett, who was 3-4 on the day with 3 RBI, plated Spruill with a single up the middle for the go-ahead run. In the bottom of the 7th, Williamson walked lead-off hitter Brayson Lewis, who would score with two out on Mason Salazar’s double, sending the game into extra innings.
In the overtime frame, Hunter Hagler started things off for the Ponies with a single against Navarro closer Blake Griffin. Clint Cage followed with an infield single, moving Hagler to second when the Navarro shortstop missed a tag on Hagler. Spruill’s single scored Hagler with the go-ahead run, setting the stage for more of Blissett’s heroics. Blissett’s double to the right-field gap scored Cage and Spruill, giving the Ponies a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of the 8th, Coach Todd Shelton opted for reliever Petty after Williamson walked the second batter he faced. Navarro’s Tyler Wilson promptly doubled, scoring a run, but Petty got the next two batters to ground out to Sonnier.
In the second game, the usually reliable Hunter Palmer struggled but managed to hold the Navarro boys to 3 runs through 4 innings. In the bottom of the 5th, Palmer was pulled for Adam Atkins, but the Bulldogs scored 8 runs on 7 hits, racking up an 11-1 lead, the final score in the game.
The only bright spot for the Ponies was Tyler Stallings, who shut down the Navarro attack in relief of Atkins. Tuesday night, Stallings lost on a walk-off homer to the Meridian Eagles after pitching shut-down ball through the first six innings. If the Ponies go deep in the Region XIV tournament, the freshman from Splendora will play a key role.
On the season, Navarro won the six-game series with the Ponies, 4 games to 2, yet the match-up between the two teams is more problematic than the record would indicate. Panola and Navarro might well meet again in the Region XIV tournament. If so, the Bulldogs would be only marginal favorites, at best. The Ponies came within a run, and a controversial call, of sweeping the Bulldogs in Carthage March 27, a win that would have evened the record between the two teams. Preston Guillory started the first game for the Ponies and pitched seven strong innings. In the second game, Kolbe Schufft hurled one of his gems, as the Ponies posted a 3-1 win. Saturday, Gavin Williamson dominated the Bulldogs. A play-off game between the Ponies and Bulldogs would have to be rated a toss-up. Conceivably, the two teams could play for the Region XIV championship and a trip to the NJCAA National Championship in Grand Junction, Colorado.
On the season, the Ponies record is 26-18. The Ponies have a lock on second place in the Easter Zone of conference play with a 19-9 record.
Next up, the Ponies conclude conference play at home with Paris. On the season, the Ponies have swept two double headers with Paris to take a 4-0 series record into the final double header. On Saturday, April 27, the Ponies meet the TJC Apaches for a double header at Mike Carter field in Tyler. The Apaches are the nationally ranked #3 team in Division III. A week later, the Ponies travel to Eunice, Louisiana, for a Friday night game with the Tigers, who are the #1 team in the nation in Division II. The Ponies will stay the night and play again Sunday afternoon before returning to Carthage to prepare for the Region XIV Tournament, which begins May 11.
The games in Eunice will be live streamed. Watch the Pony Express for the link.