LIVE BROADCAST: Panthers Take a Hard Fall on the Last Step of Their Championship Run

By Joshua Koch and Roger Smith, courtesy of VYPE and vypetexas.com

ROUND ROCK (Covering Fort Bend News) – Going against what had become a theme of its playoff run, Ridge Point didn’t have another comeback left in the tank.

The Panthers had overcome Cy Fair when they were down 4-1 after five innings in Game 3 of a third round series. They beat Atascocita after trailing 7-2 in Game 1 of that series, and came back from 5-1 down in Game 1 vs. Kingwood to win 6-5 in eight innings.

During the state semifinal round Friday at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond, they stunned McKinney Boyd, rallying from 2-0 deficit after 3 1/2 innings, winning 5-2.

But against Southlake Carroll in the next day’s title game, early errors and a struggling bullpen were too much for the Panthers to overcome. The Dragons capitalized on every Ridge Point mistake, winning 17-0 to earn their second straight UIL state title for Head Coach Larry Vucan, and their fifth overall.

Ridge Point won an impressive 11 of their 12 playoff games. The Dragons, however, were even better: they won 18 straight to close out 2019, including a 10-0 postseason mark.

In the first three innings, Ridge Point threatened to score repeatedly, leaving five runners on base. Carroll third baseman Cade Manning speared line drives by Ridge Point’s Jack Baker and Jacob Garcia. With Hayde Key leading off first base following a lead-off single, Preston Steszewski’s hard ground ball to second produced an inning-ending double play.

“We’ve used this word the whole time through the playoffs: (Our players) have shown their resiliency,” Ridge Point coach Clinton Welch said. “Of course, we got down 4-0 in the first inning of this game; just one time too many.”

An RBI double Manning and Riley Garcia’s RBI single, plus three Ridge Point errors, led to the 4-0 first inning Carroll outburst.

The disadvantage seemed like something the Panthers could overcome, but the Dragons scored 11 runs in the third inning to bury Ridge Point’s hopes. Five of the runs crossed the plate due to bases-loaded walks, errors, hit batters or wild pitches.

Ridge Point (33-5-1) finished the best campaign in its eight varsity seasons with the Panthers’ first-ever state tournament berth. The Panthers were trying to become the first Fort Bend ISD team to win a baseball title since the Elkins Knights in 2003.

“(The loss) doesn’t take away what a great group of student athletes we have at Ridge Point,” Welch said. “They’ve done a great job of battling to get here, acting correct on the field, and doing a great job of representing Ridge Point High School, Fort Bend ISD and their community.

“It’s tough to get here, tough to win that final game. They had a great season.”

The Panthers will return most of their lineup next season, and be favorites to return to Round Rock for another opportunity to complete their state championship quest. “We do have a lot. Relatively speaking, the starting lineup was young,” Welch said. “Hopefully they can draw some great experiences from this, the whole six-week playoff run. Maybe come back hungrier next year since we came so close.”

Southlake Carroll starting pitcher Joe Steeber pitched five innings in the game, earning the complete game, “run-rule” victory.

Listen to the live broadcast(s) of Ridge Point’s state tournament baseball games June 7-8, as well as podcasts of all Fort Bend ISD games on VYPE by clicking on https://www.spreaker.com/show/fort-bend-sports-powered-by-vype.

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