Canyon outlasts Stephenville, punches ticket to UIL 4A state tournament

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Head coach John Doan and the Canyon Eagles celebrate after beating Stephenville at Texas Tech on Friday to advance to the UIL Class 4A state tournament. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
LUBBOCK – The Canyon Eagles cut it close at the last possible moment during what has become a historic playoff run.

In the end, though, it was just close enough Friday afternoon at Rip Griffin Park at Dan Law Field in what’s the last chance for Canyon coach John Doan.

It wasn’t until reliever Colt Cruth struck out Stephenville’s Kutter Stone in the final at-bat with the tying run at second base in the third game of the Class 4A region final that it became official. The Eagles beat the Yellowjackets 5-4, giving Doan a trip to the state tournament in his final season.

Canyon will play in a state semifinal game next Wednesday afternoon at Austin’s Disch-Falk Field.

That final out was necessary considering that the Eagles (30-8-1) went to a third game in the playoffs for the first time this season, this time with a state tournament bid on the line. What was particularly rewarding for Doan was the way his team earned it.

“You start the day with the momentum because of the night before and then you lose that when they steal a game from you,” Doan said. “I just went back to the dugout and I told them all along that when you do something special it makes it more special when it’s hard. I said let’s make some memories in game three and give this town something to cheer for, and that was my only message.”

A third game was forced when Stephenville rallied with four runs in the bottom of the sixth for a 5-3 win. That flipped the script written Thursday night when the Eagles got a pair of two-out hits in the bottom of the seventh inning to pull out an improbable 7-6 victory and take the series lead.

The Eagles had to deal with something they hadn’t had to since the beginning of the playoffs: a loss. They had swept three previous series and beat Springtown in a one-game playoff last week.

Carson Allen (3) celebrates after Christian McGuire (2) scored a run to put Canyon in the lead against Stephenville. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Through three innings, it seemed like no sweat for Canyon. Leadoff hitter Christian McGuire set the table with a single, went to second on an errant pickoff throw, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Carson Allen’s infield single for a 1-0 lead.

The Eagles added two more in the third as McGuire again reached on an infield hit and eventually scored on another poor pickoff throw by Stephenville starter Gabe Elms. Beau Boehning also had an RBI double to make it 3-0.

Jacob Burris started on the mound for Canyon but was pulled after issuing a leadoff walk in the top of the third. Zabien Urteaga came on and pitched three innings, and while he did give up three runs as Stephenville (29-12-1) tied the game 3-3 in the fifth inning, he ate up enough innings to keep the Eagles aloft and ended up earning the win.

“I was looking to get the start there, but when they went with Burris I knew whenever he went out, I’d have to come in and do my job and set it up for the next guy,” Urteaga said. “Luckily we got the win. That goes to me but it’s all of us. Everyone goes kind of crazy here and it’s slowly setting in.”

But Urteaga wouldn’t have gotten the win if he and McGuire, the top two hitters in Canyon’s order, hadn’t gotten the job done with their bats in the bottom of the fifth inning after the Yellowjackets tied it.

With one out, McGuire doubled off Elms, knocking Elms out of the game. Urteaga then greeted Stephenville reliever Tyler Hicks with single to left to drive in McGuire and reclaim the lead for Canyon.

After an intentional walk to Allen, Hicks unintentionally walked Boehning and Burris to bring home a run which proved a huge difference. It was no surprise that the inning got started with the senior McGuire delivering at the top of the lineup.

“It’s our last chance,” McGuire said. “It’s a great sense of urgency. We really wanted to get it done, especially with the coaches leaving. It felt really good. My teammates and coaches trust me with that role so it’s super important to get that job done.”

Colt Cruth of Canyon delivers a pitch on Friday. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Of course, it wasn’t that simple for the Eagles in a series where nothing seemed to come easy. Colt Cruth came on in relief of Urteaga in the sixth to make his second mound appearance of the day after starting the second game.

With one out, Stephenville’s Jadis Clemmer doubled to left and eventually scored on a wild pitch to cut it to 5-4, leaving the Eagles next to no margin for error heading into the seventh.

Cruth meant business, retiring the first two batters before Eli Hiltola lined a single to left-center and stole second to put the tying run in scoring position. However, Cruth struck out Kutter Stone for the final out, ensuring Canyon’s first trip to state since 2003.

“I think it’s been on our mind the whole season because we wanted to do it for the coaches, especially this being their last year,” Cruth said. “It’s been great to have this ride in the playoffs. We lost that second game but we didn’t let it get under our skin.”

That second game was mostly a pitchers duel between Cruth and Stephenville’s Lane Heller. Stephenville got to Cruth for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third on an RBI groundout by Stone, but that was all the Yellowjackets got off Cruth.

That was enough for Stephenville until the top of the sixth. The Eagles loaded the bases and with one out and Boehning lined a double to left field to clear them and give Canyon a 3-1 lead.

Despite the fact Cruth hadn’t thrown a lot of pitches, Canyon opted to go with sophomore right-hander Bayler Schilling, who had been nearly untouchable in relief in the postseason. On this occasion, though, Stephenville touched him.

Schilling faced only three batters and didn’t retire any of them and was pulled after Mason Haynes hit an RBI single to cut it to 3-2. Another sophomore, Noah Sanchez, came in and walked Jadis Clemmer to load the bases, and was immediately pulled.

“We wanted Bayler in the game for the final six outs and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way,” Doan said. “He’s one of the guys who’s completely responsible for us being here. Just because something doesn’t work out in one game doesn’t mean it’s not going to down the road.”

Urteaga relieved and struck out Haiden Rudloff for the first out, but Tanner Smith then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to drive in Mason Weyers and tie the game 3-3. Tyler Hicks then drilled a single to right to bring home two runs and that proved to be the difference.
Wacey Dill, who started Thursday’s game, retired the Eagles in order in the top of the seventh to earn the save.

However, that was all forgotten at the end of the next game. The Eagles broke their one-game playoff losing streak and now have a one-game winning streak.

Head coach John Doan will coach at the UIL state tournament for the first time in his career. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Now it’s down to two games at most, which is what will take for the Eagles to win a state championship and send Doan out in the greatest style possible. It would be full circle since Doan’s first year at Canyon was in 2003, when he was an assistant to Gary Hix when the Eagles last went to the state tournament.

“Better late than never,” Doan said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling but I bet it won’t set in until about Plainview. It’s unfathomable. You talk about going to the state tournament early in the season and we told the kids don’t be afraid to say state tournament. Its’ not bragging, you’ve just got to believe in it. These kids are just grinders, and they never feel like they’re out of it.”

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