FLATONIA — The Mustangs (27-3A fourth place) seemed to be right on the cusp of breaking out but were unable to get things going after losing 6-3 in the first game of their three-game bi-district series against the Tidehaven Tigers (28-3A first place) on Thursday.
Down their usual second hitter in the lineup, Nixon-Smiley had to adjust both at the plate and on the field with athletes playing out of position as well as many experiencing playoff baseball for the first time in their young high school career.
Opportunities were there, but two hits while stranding 12 baserunners in the seven-inning game is not enough to win a postseason game.
“Couldn’t get the timely hit, that was the story of the night,” Nixon-Smiley Head Coach Bobby Newman said. “We had opportunities. We had runners on all night, so did they. They had opportunities too. I thought we played pretty well. We were down a man tonight, down one of our starters. Sean [Villanueva] did a good job on the mound, kept us in it, we just couldn’t get that hit tonight.”
Villanueva pitched five innings, reaching nearly 100 pitches in the outing. He struck out four batters, allowing eight hits, four walks and two hit batters.
The first inning was a tough one for the team, with Villanueva facing eight batters, three of which scored.
“That first inning, we got maybe two kids that have got any real playoff experience — football, basketball, baseball, whatever it is,” Newman explained. “Their pitcher did a great job. He was throwing pretty good. I think we were a little shell-shocked and we started slow.”
At the plate, the Mustangs failed on a bunt attempt, popping out for an out, was called out for a batter interference, then struck out to end the top half of the frame. But the nerves were shaken off in the second, when Villanueva and the defense stranded two baserunners in the second inning while scoring one themselves to cut the lead to 3-1.
“We slowed down and made some big pitches when we had to” Newman said, “made some plays when we had to, we had guys playing out of position all night, I was proud of the way they fought, proud of the way they battled.”
That timely hit never came for the Mustangs. Chris Brown had a leadoff hit in the fourth and was left stranded on second. Jason Yell came away with a single after a full count, advancing Xavier Arias to second in the top of the seventh down 6-2. Arias would eventually score, but Yell only got as far as second base, with the Mustangs striking out their last two batters, ending the game 6-3.
Despite the struggles at the plate, a 6-3 decision isn’t the worse thing for Nixon-Smiley.
“I think we take a lot out of this, 6-3 ball game, we were down a starter, our two-hole hitter, we’re going to take a lot out of this,” Newman said. “We’re going to be ready to go. We’re good. I like where we’re at right now.”
With the nerves out of the way, the Mustangs will look to compete much more on Saturday for Game 2 and potentially Game 3, so long as they can get that hit.
“We got to put more balls in play,” Newman reiterated, “we got to hit the ball.”
Game 2 is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, in Flatonia. Game 3, if necessary, is soon after.