Canyon rallies for Game 1 win over Stephenville in Class 4A regional finals

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The Canyon Eagles celebrate after getting a walk-off win against Stephenville on Thursday night in the Class 4A regional finals at Texas Tech. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
LUBBOCK – Maybe destiny is the best explanation for why the Canyon Eagles are where they’re at right now.

How else could anyone fathom what happened in the first game of their best-of-three Class 4A region final series against Stephenville on Thursday night at Rip Griffin Park at Dan Law Field?

They were one out away from going down by one game in the series and suffering their first postseason loss and five pitches later the game was over – and the Eagles still didn’t have a playoff loss.

Sam Johnson broke out of a slump in a huge way, poking a single to center to score Jacob Burris after another big postseason hit to lift Canyon to a 7-6 victory and a 1-0 series lead.

The Eagles (29-7-1) will reach the state tournament for the first time in 21 years on Friday with a victory, as they face Stephenville (28-11-1) at 2 p.m., and if the Yellowjackets win, that will necessitate a third game 30 minutes later.

Regardless, retiring Canyon coach John Doan will coach at least two more games in his career. Despite being the Eagles leader for the past 21 seasons and seeing a whole lot in that time, he was scratching his head at the end of what was the biggest win of his career.

“I have no idea what is going on with this team,” said Doan, sounding more like a frustrated coach wondering why his club is in a mid-district slump. I just told them something unexplainable is going on and that’s what makes it really cool. We shouldn’t have won that game because we did not do enough to help ourselves out, but we did take advantage of a few mistakes and we got the clutch hits when we needed them.”

Sam Johnson delivered the game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh to give Canyon the thrilling win. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Canyon trailed 6-4 heading into the bottom of the seventh facing Stephenville left-handed reliever Gabe Elms, who could best be described as an off-speed specialist. With one out, Zabien Urteaga singled to center to get the ball rolling.

On the next pitch, Elms hit sophomore Carson Allen to put the tying run on base, but after Beau Boehning grounded to third for the second out, the Eagles were one out away from being in the hole.

That brought up Burris, who in game one of the region quarterfinals against West Plains two weeks ago, capped a two-out rally from a two-run deficit with a two-run single which gave the Eagles an 8-7 win. This time, Burris lined the first pitch from Elms deep into the left-center field gap, scoring both runs to tie the game 6-6.

“We had runners on second and third and all we needed was for them to get in,” Burris said. “We were down by two. That was all I was worried about whether it was a single or an infield hit, and I happened to get a barrel on it.”

The Eagles suddenly had the winning run improbably 90 feet from home with Johnson at the plate. In the previous two rounds of the postseason, the senior didn’t have a hit and in a span of nine plate appearances carrying into this series, he had eight strikeouts.

That mattered little, though, as he worked the count to 2-1 and lined a pitch just over the second base bag, allowing Burris to trot home with the winning run and give the Eagles their only lead of the day when it counted.

“The playoffs have been a little bit of a rough patch for me, maybe one of the worst of my life,” said Johnson, who was moved to the No. 6 spot in the order out of the cleanup spot. “To be able to be put in the position to help the team to a win was great. If it wasn’t for Burris getting that triple I wouldn’t even have been up there. It was just being able to clear my head and put it up the middle.”

Christian McGuire of Canyon makes a throw to first base during the Class 4A regional final against Stephenville on Thursday. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
While the game itself was epic in scope, it was made even longer by a weather delay in the top of the third with one out and two runners on base. It lasted 1 hour, 42 minutes, and after it ended, Canyon starting pitcher Christian McGuire was removed off the mound due to the delay.

Burris entered the game in relief with the Eagles trailing 5-0, and he got in trouble in the fourth when Stephenville, playing small ball, loaded the bases with no outs without hitting the ball out of the infield. But Burris got a grounder back to the mound for a force at home, Bayler Schilling made a diving catch in left field for the second out and Jadis Clemmer hit into a force play at third to end the inning.

“That was very key because they had the momentum at the momentum at the moment, but I knew the whole time the team had my back,” Burris said. “They were telling me just co calm down and lock in and it worked out in our favor.”

In the bottom of the inning, Canyon got on the board despite not putting the bat on the ball. Stephenville starter Wacey Dill and relievers Tyler Hicks and Clemmer combined to walk four batters and hit another, as Burris drew a walk which forced in a run and another scored on a balk to cut it to 5-2.

The Eagles added two unearned runs in the fifth thanks to three Stephenville errors while having only one hit to cut the lead to 5-4. However, Clemmer and Elms combined to retire six straight hitters before Canyon broke through with the winning runs in the seventh.

Junior right-hander Colt Cruth is scheduled to start Friday on the mound for Canyon.

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