Canyon, West Plains go unbeaten at Randy Keller Memorial


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West Plains teammates Julyen Aguilera (2) and Garrett Hamilton celebrate after scoring a run against Amarillo High at Hodgetown on Saturday night. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
The showdown for next Thursday afternoon between two Canyon ISD schools couldn’t have been set up any better than it was during an Amarillo ISD tournament.

Over two days at the shortened Randy Keller Memorial Baseball Tournament, established program Canyon and upstart second-year team West Plains stood well above the rest of the tournament field, regardless of location at the end of Saturday. Both CISD schools went 4-0 while in Amarillo, effectively sharing the tournament “championship” in the round robin format.

That’s appropriate, since Canyon (11-3-1) will host West Plains (13-3) on Thursday at 1 p.m. in the District 4-4A opener. If what they did over the weekend was any indication, it could precipitate a competitive district season.

In a tournament which saw Friday’s action canceled due to inclement weather, Canyon was forced to play three games to open the tournament on Thursday. The Eagles won them all and finished things Saturday by shutting out Tascosa 6-0.

“I’m really happy for coach (Wade) Williams, our pitching coach, and all the arms he put out there,” Canyon coach John Doan said. “They really performed, especially our guys in relief. Noah Sanchez had some big innings in relief (in the tournament opener) against Amarillo High and he came back and did the same thing (against Tascosa). We have a lot of young guys on this team who were relying on on the mound and they’ve been performing.”

That tournament opener against Amarillo High was the most challenging of the tournament for the Eagles, but it set the tone. They won 8-5, rallying from a 5-0 deficit for the victory.
Canyon and Amarillo High had originally been scheduled to play Friday afternoon, but the projected poor weather facilitated moving the game up to Thursday morning. The Eagles played three straight games on the first day, following the Amarillo High game by beating Levelland 7-0, then edging Bushland 4-3.

“We’re pretty blessed this year with some pitching depth and we’re logging some good innings on the mound,” Doan said. “For three games in one day, we’d never done it before, but we didn’t shy away and just took the opportunity. The weather was great on Thursday and we just took advantage of it. It’s just a fun group to be around and we had fun with our team.”

Saturday’s finale against Tascosa might have been the perfect snapshot of the week for the Eagles. Sam Johnson got the scoring started with a two-run double in the top of the first, and that’s all Canyon’s pitchers needed.

Jacob Burris threw five shutout innings, holding Tascosa hitless until Jacob Cunningham reached on a bunt single with two outs in the fifth. Sanchez closed out the day by throwing two perfect innings.

Like Canyon, West Plains took an early lead against Amarillo High and made it hold up over the final six innings for a 7-5 victory at Hodgetown which closed tournament action. The Wolves never trailed as Bryton Bertrand and Johnie Gifford had RBI singles to give West Plains a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

West Plains led 5-0 before Amarillo High finally got to West Plains starter Ethan Bentley for three runs in the fifth, highlighted by Will Flaming’s two-run single. However, that’s as close as the Sandies got.

It was also as close as anybody came to taking down the Wolves in the tournament, which West Plains coach Colby Chandler, a former AHS assistant, fully appreciates.

“It was a fun tournament,” Chandler said. “The Randy Keller’s always fun because you get to play close to home and sleep in your own bed. The big thing is we hit the baseball well again. I don’t remember how many hits we had on Thursday, but we had a combined 33 total runs so that was a good day for us and we kind of kept that rolling.”

The Wolves opened the Keller by routing a pair of AISD schools Thursday in 10-run mercy rule victories, beating Palo Duro 13-3 and Caprock 20-1. They scored another lopsided win in their first game Saturday, thumping El Paso Riverside 11-1.

Such results show that West Plains is expecting to be a force after only two years of varsity baseball and that expectations are high. With the success of the football and boys basketball programs in the first two seasons, the bar has been set.

“We just got our basketball guys back a couple of weeks ago because they had a great season,” Chandler said. “We’re still rolling some of those guys in and trying to figure ourselves out a bit. We’re going into district playing really good baseball and I’m excited about the district season. With Canyon and Randall it doesn’t start easy for us.”

Amarillo High’s Jimmy Escajeda lines a base-hit against West Plains during a game at Hodgetown on Saturday night. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]

Between rough start and finish, Sandies perform well

Amarillo High had to play three games on the first day of the tournament as well, and the Sandies got off on the wrong foot with the loss to Canyon. However, they bounced back with a pair of run-rule wins, routing Borger 16-6 and Hereford 13-1 on Thursday.
When action resumed Saturday, Amarillo High (10-6) beat Dumas 11-3 before losing to West Plains.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge to play three games in one day,” AHS coach Randon Johnson said. “We feel we’re built for it a little bit with some depth at the catcher position and some arms who can come in at different spots. I felt like we let one get away, but we did a good job coming back and winning two games.”

Max Rodriguez delivers a base-hit for Bushland during a game against Randall on Thursday at Hodgetown. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]

Falcons can fly

The tournament opened Thursday afternoon at Hodgetown with what might have been the best game, as Bushland defeated Randall 5-4. Bushland (11-2-1) mounted a two-out rally in the top of the seventh when Kade Gavina doubled and scored on a single to right field by Max Rodriguez.

“These are exactly why we play in this tournament so we can see good competition and great pitching,” said Bushland first-year coach Todd Espe. “It puts pressure on us to make us better at the end.”

Bushland, the smallest school in the tournament, bounced back from the later loss to Canyon by closing the tournament with a 19-2 rout of Borger in five innings Saturday.

Randy Keller Memorial Tournament scores

Thursday’s Games

Canyon 8, Amarillo High 5
Hereford 6, Palo Duro 2
Bushland 5, Randall 4
Amarillo High 16, Borger 6
Hereford 3, Tascosa 1
Tascosa 11, Perryton 8
Amarillo High 13, Hereford 1
Tascosa 5, Dumas 4
West Plains 13, Palo Duro 3
Caprock 7, Dumas 1
West Plains 20, Caprock 1
Borger 8, Palo Duro 4
Levelland 9, Randall 8
Canyon 7, Levelland 0
Canyon 4, Bushland 3
El Paso Riverside 5, Perryton 4

Saturday’s Games

Hereford 9, Riverside 7
Canyon 6, Tascosa 0
Bushland 19, Borger 2
Amarillo High 11, Dumas 3
Randall 16, Caprock 1
Perryton 8, Palo Duro 4
Dumas 14, Palo Duro 0
West Plains 11, Riverside 1
Perryton 4, Levelland 3
West Plains 7, Amarillo High 5



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