Do or die: Wakeland drops series opener to find itself on brink of elimination
GRAND PRAIRIE -- Wakeland head coach Barry Rose told his team to expect a three-game series before Thursday's regional quarterfinal opener against Highland Park.
The Wolverines will need the series to go three games in order to avoid a sweep after dropping Game 1 of the best-of-3 set, 3-1, from QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie.
"We were anticipating it going all three games," Rose said. "That's something we've prepared for."
Highland Park did all of its damage at the plate in the first inning, scoring three runs off Wakeland senior starting pitcher Hayden Nixon.
Nixon, coming off a perfect game in his last outing against Bryan Adams, surrendered four hits and overcame a hard hit ball that bounced off his pitching hand during the first inning.
"Luckily it just got hit on the tip a little bit," Rose said. "He always stays in the game to compete and give you innings though."
The senior lefty was back to typical form after the opening frame and pitched the final six innings without surrendering another run.
"[Nixon] is mentally tough," Rose said. "He always bounces back."
After surrendering just two hits over the final six innings, Nixon ended his outing with just six hits given up in his seven innings of work. He also struck out four batters and walked just one.
Meanwhile, the Wakeland offense had difficulty solving Highland Park junior hurler Matt Wilson.
The lefty held the Wolverines scoreless for the first six innings and picked off two runners at first base.
Wilson's first pick off came in the second inning when designated hitter Ryan Perry reached base on a leadoff single.
During the next at bat, Perry was picked off after the first of two controversial no calls.
"I thought he was balking," Rose said. "You've got to go with what [the umpires] are going to call though."
Sophomore catcher Seth Mullis singled in the following at bat for Wakeland but couldn't score after a pair of strikeouts from first baseman Johnny Gonzalez and right fielder Cameron Brockhoff.
Wakeland would get the leadoff man on base once again during the fifth inning after a single from Gonzalez.
Wilson then tallied his second pick off on a similar move to the one that got Perry in the second inning.
"That shouldn't be a problem for the rest of the series," Rose said. "They don't have another lefty that will pitch."
Much like the second inning, the Wolverines followed the pick off with another base hit.
This time it was Brockhoff with a rope into the gap that went for a one-out triple.
"We had our opportunities," Rose said.
Wakeland would fail to bring the runner home after outfielder Dan Harrington struck out looking for the second out and Nixon popped up a two-strike pitch for the inning's final out.
Nixon kept the Wolverines in the game with stellar pitching over the final six innings though and retired the final 10 batters of the contest.
"I like the way we finished the game," Rose said. "I think that will end up carrying over to Game 2."
Wilson finally bent a little in the bottom of the seventh with his team leading 3-0.
The Wolverines got back-to-back one-out singles from Mullis and Gonzalez to put the tying man at the plate.
Brockhoff then drove in Wakeland's first run of the night on an RBI groundout that put Wilson one out away from the victory.
Harrington couldn't deliver during the next at bat and struck out to end the game and any possible comeback.
Wilson ended his outing with just one run surrendered on seven hits and one walk while also fanning five hitters.
"I thought we had some good at bats in the seventh off Wilson," Rose said.
At 25-10 on the season, the Wolverines must now win consecutive games against Highland Park in order to avoid a playoff exit.
Senior Willie Schwanke is slated for the Game 2 start on the hill and will face righty Will Nichol in another 7:30 p.m. contest.
"We'll be ready," Rose said.
A potential third game would take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday from the same location.