Big innings lift Canyon past Springtown in 4A region semifinals

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The Canyon Eagles celebrate after beating Springtown in the UIL Class 4A regional semifinals on Thursday night at Frenship High School. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]

WOLFFORTH – It wasn’t the setup the Canyon Eagles were expecting or certainly hoping for late Thursday afternoon at Frenship.

However, they adapted to it big time, and they’re going farther than they ever have in 21 previous seasons under coach John Doan.

In what has been announced as Doan’s final season at Canyon, the Eagles are finding ways to keep things going and have yet to lose a game.

After losing a flip to Springtown and having to opt for a one-game playoff instead of a best-of-three series in a Class 4A region semifinal, the Eagles responded with two big innings to roll to an 8-1 victory and move one round away from the school’s first trip to the state tournament in 21 years.

Canyon (28-7-1) will face the winner of the Seminole-Stephenville three-game series which will conclude Saturday at Stephenville.

The Eagles will be carrying nothing but momentum into next week’s region finals, as they’ve shown they can do whatever it takes to win. Nobody seems ready for the ride to end, least of all Doan.

“It’s a very special feeling,” Doan said. “It goes back to these kids. There’s not much that I did. They’re the ones out there playing the game and busting their tails in practice. We’re just driving the bus for these guys, and they play the game so hard and so well, I’m afraid to get in the way.”

In a one-game series, though, the coach has to get in the way if a decision needs to be made with the season on the line. That’s where Doan used the depth of Canyon’s pitching staff to get through the last four innings.

For the first three innings, Canyon’s Colt Cruth held his own against Springtown ace Brayden Fox. The Porcupines (24-9) got an unearned run off Cruth to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the third.

That lead looked fairly safe the way Fox was throwing. He struck out 10 of the first 14 Canyon batters he faced as the only threat the Eagles mounted came on back-to-back two-out singles by Christian McGuire and Zabien Urteaga in the third.

Canyon’s Carson Allen heads home to score against Springtown on Thursday night. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]

 After that, Doan lifted Cruth for sophomore Bayler Schilling, who’s been a dominant relief specialist in the postseason.

“We think it was the right move,” Doan said. “We’ve counted on (Schilling) and he knows that we count on him. He’s mature, way above his sophomore year and we had no problem with that. Colt maybe got a little out of rhythm and with the pitching we have we don’t have to let people get in a rhythm.”

For the move to Schilling to work, though, the Eagles had to get something off Fox. That came in the fifth inning.

While Fox struck out seven straight Eagles at one point and finished with 11 strikeouts, he had thrown a lot of pitches by the time he started the bottom of the fifth inning.

He issued back-to-back walks to Cruth and Rece Davis to start the inning, then he threw away a sacrifice bunt by Noah Sanchez which allowed Cruth to score the tying run and put runners on second and third.

McGuire then popped up to the catcher, bringing up Urteaga, the only Canyon hitter who had put the ball in play in each of his first two at-bats against Fox. On a full count, Urteaga lined the ball to left center to bring home two runs and give the Eagles a 3-1 lead they never relinquished.

For good measure, Springtown left fielder Kyle Litzman kicked the ball and Urteaga went to third base.

“The first at-bat I saw the fastball really well and it had good movement, the second at-bat I cheated and pushed it through the middle,” Urteaga said. “I saw the fastball again and was looking to score one run and it happened to play in our favor that it scored two. That got us rolling. We were just pushing hard.”

Urteaga scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Carson Allen, and with two outs, Allen scored on a single up the middle by Jacob Burris to make it 5-1. That earned Fox, who’d already crossed the 100-pitch threshold, a ticket off the mound.

Bayler Schilling worked 3.1 scoreless innings for Canyon in the win over Springtown. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]

Meanwhile, Schilling again proved his worth, providing stronger relief that Alka Seltzer. He pitched three scoreless innings as the Eagles scored three more in the sixth, capped by Allen’s two-run double to make it 8-1.

Schilling only continued to burnish his impressive young postseason resume, as he now has three saves and two wins in the playoffs.

“I was ready to go the whole game,” Schilling said. “Mentally I was just waiting to go in and it was definitely a good feeling. I was definitely satisfied going in with a lot of energy with the fans and then we come in with those big hits. It can’t get much better than that really.”

After striking out the first hitter in the seventh, Schilling struggled with his control, hitting a batter and walking another, and in between giving up his only hit to load the bases and give Springtown some hope. But Doan pulled Schilling for fellow sophomore Sanchez, who poetically got Fox to ground into a double play to end the game.

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