Italy’s select baseball team competes in state tournament

Image: Italy’s third baseman Justin Wood gets under a Mexia foul ball for an out during pool play.

Italy’s third baseman Justin Wood gets under a Mexia foul ball for an out during pool play. (Barry Byers)

Pool game 1:
Italy, Loyd Davidson Field — As part of a State tournament hosted in Italy, Hillsboro and Maypearl, Italy’s select baseball team played its first pool game of the tournament against the Mexia Blackcats on Friday. Freshman pitcher Ryan Connor stayed strong on the mound for Italy against a high-powered Mexia offense thru the first few innings.

Mexia led 2-0 into the third-inning but kept chipping away to take a 4-0 advantage by the fifth. Sophomore pitcher John Byers replaced Connor on the mound and Marvin cox replaced Caden Jacinto at catcher as the two seniors traded places with Jacinto moving to shortstop.

Initially, Byers had the Blackcats scratching their heads with Mexia unable to increase their lead in the fifth. After the teams switch assignments, Byers knocks in a runner from third to make the score 4-1 giving Italy much needed momentum.

Mexia keeps setting the pace and takes a 7-3 lead. With time expired, Italy still has one last at bat and manages to close in 7-5 with hitting help from Kevin Roldan and Justin Wood. With two outs, freshman Levi McBride lofts one high into left field but the Blackcats make the catch and take the win.

Pool game 2:
Italy returned to the diamond the same night starting at 6:00 p.m. against Dawson. With Caden Jacinto and Marvin Cox splitting time on the mound and Reid Jacinto patrolling home plate, Italy’s defense made several plays while their offense methodically chipped away at the Bulldogs for a 16-5 victory.

Pool game 3:
An 8:00 a.m. start time on Saturday morning against Bartlett would be Italy’s final pool game with the state tournament beginning the same day. Italy led early but Bartlett eventually got the win 9-4.

State Tournament – Round 1:
Hillsboro — With coaches Mark Jacinto and Vincent Jacinto, brothers and Gladiator alumni, guiding Italy’s select team into Hillsboro, into the State tournament and into a Round 1 rematch with the Mexia Blackcats, Caden Jacinto stepped onto the mound and up to the challenge in one loss elimination tournament.

John Escamilla suited up as catcher and would later play a pivotal roll in determining the games final outcome. To start the game, Jacinto pitched three straight strikes to get the first out of the game and introduce himself to the Blackcats who did not compete against the senior pitcher during pool play.

However, Mexia manages to load the bases and eventually takes an early 2-0 lead. In the third-inning, junior first baseman Kevin Roldan hits a double and then is knocked in by the next Italy batter to tighten the score 2-1.

In the fourth-inning, Caden Jacinto gets on base with a single. Despite Mexia’s best efforts to keep the fleet-footed senior glued to first, the Gladiator legacy manages to steal second. Shortly after, another single shot by Roldan allows C. Jacinto to reach third and continue home off an overthrow to tie the contest 2-2. Mexia manages the third out to escape the inning stranding Roldan at first base.

In the top of the fifth-inning, solid at bats by Mexia combined with a series of unfortunate errors by Italy’s infielders allows the Blackcats to leap ahead 6-2. One Mexia score is nullified, however, when a Blackcat runner collides with Escamilla at home plate in an attempt to jar the ball loose. The umpire ruled the contact illegal and charged Mexia with a timeout instead of giving them credit for the run.Ty Windham, at second base, ended the craziness with a throw to Roldan covering first for the third out. Mexia continues leading 6-2.

In the bottom half of the inning and needing to respond, John Escamilla reaches first base. Both Jacinto Coaches send in Brandon Connor, a freshman, as a pinch runner for their catcher. Moments later, Italy loads the bases with Connor at third, Ty Windham, another Italy freshman, standing at second and Justin Wood is born to run on first.

Italy’s Reid Jacinto then approaches the plate, spidering his fingers as he grips the bat at just the right tension. And then it happened—a solid rip by the senior rockets the ball out of the infield and continues to gain altitude, just enough to clear the right fielders outstretched glove before the ball crashes down at the base of the fence.

In a full simultaneous sprint, Connor, Windham and Wood blazed a trail around the infield. The lingering dust in the base lines created a surreal moment as Ried Jacinto took advantage of a delayed relay by Mexia’s defense and scampered home to complete an inside the park grand-slam homerun to help Italy tie the score for the second time, 6-6.

Capitalizing on their new found momentum, Reece Marshall singles and then quickly steals second base. Caden Jacinto knocks Marshall in allowing Italy to overtake Mexia 7-6. Roldan sent chills down the backs of the Blackcats as he returned to the plate. Caden Jacinto steals second while Roldan looks for his pitch. The junior slugger comes through with his second double of the game, driving a wind slicer into the left field gap. Caden Jacinto turns third and is sent home by uncle and Coach Mark Jacinto to give Italy an 8-6 cushion on the scoreboard before Mexia finally gathers a third out.

In the top of the 6th, Moments later, with a runner at third, a pitch from Caden Jacinto gets past Escamilla who hustles to the fence, finds the ball and throws on the money back to his pitcher who makes the catch at the tip of the plate as Mexia’s runner slides across. OUT! Reid Jacinto secured a popup into his mitt at his shortstop position for out number two. Caden Jacinto gets Italy out of the inning in the same fashion he started the game, throwing thee consecutive strikes to Mexia’s long ball hitter.

With Italy up to bat, the 2 hour time limit expires and the game is pronounced over. Italy gets the dramatic 8-6 win over Mexia to start the State tournament and the Blackcats were not happy shaking hands after losing the rematch.

State Tournament - Round 2:
Hillsboro — Italy had little time to celebrate their emotional win over the Blackcats having to quickly retake the field against Athens around 9:00 p.m. Both teams had to contend with a rain delay, as well, which made the day run even longer.

Italy did manage several runs during the triple-header but Athens ran away with the nightcap to remove Italy from the tournament. All in all, Italy players gained valuable experience against some tough ball clubs that should make a noticeable difference for the Italy High School Gladiators come spring.

Special thanks to Larry Mayberry, Lisa Jacinto, Misty Escamilla, Susan Jacinto and Nancy Byers for working the Italy concession stand during the tournament.

Go Italy!

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