Defensive gem key for Texas
A closer look at the Lufkin, Texas, 6-3 win over Fairfield, Connecticut, Sunday at Lamade Stadium
PLAY OF THE GAME: Texas left fielder Kyle Kolvar made what might be the play of the Series thus far. Kolvar robbed Michael Iannazzo of a game-tying, 2-run home run in the fifth inning, making a highlight, twisting and turning catch in front of the left-field wall. Kolvar covered ground on the deep fly ball quickly, changed direction and was able catch the ball despite the wall being inches away. It prevented Connecticut from tying the game and helped pave the way to the winner’s bracket final.
TEXAS PLAYER OF THE GAME: Texas center fielder Christian Mumphrey put together a super performance, hitting two home runs and driving in three runs. Mumphrey tied the game in the second inning when he hit a two-run home run and also homered again in the fifth inning, providing a valuable insurance run.
CONNECTICUT PLAYER OF THE GAME: Michael Iannazzo-Texas eventually pulled away in the last two innings, but Iannazzo pitched a strong game against a powerful offense. The right-hander struck out seven in five innings and fanned the side in the second inning.
BIG INNING: The team known as “The Thundering 13” produced some two-out thunder after the inning’s first two batters were retired. Zach Phipps was hit by a pitch, Chandler Spencer singled and Malcom Deason hit a clutch RBI single before Spencer scored on a wild pitch. Just like that, Texas broke a tie and took a 5-3 lead.
BEST EFFORT: Collin Ross’s pitching. The right-hander threw a four-hit gem and did not allow a run over the last four innings. Ross maintained his composure after Connecticut scored three second-inning runs and did not allow another hit, retiring the final 14 batters he faced. Ross also struck out eight and grew stronger as the game progressed.
HOME RUNS: Moments after the Pittsburgh Pirates arrived at Lamade, Connecticut catcher Aidan Rivera showed off his power, slamming a second-inning lead-off HR over the right-field wall and tying the game, 1-1. Texas center fielder Christian Mumphrey showed the Pirates what he could do in the bottom of the second, crushing a game-tying two-run home run into the bushes beyond left-center field. Mumphrey capped a day he will never forget in the fifth inning, driving the first pitch he saw into the bushes beyond the center field fence for his second home run that made it, 6-3.
FLASHING LEATHER: Connecticut pitcher Michael Iannazzo and catcher Aidan Rivera combined on a super first-inning play that saved a run. Iannazzo hustled after a slow roller and made a quick flip home to Rivera who was able to tag out an air-borne Chandler Spencer after he had hit a lead-off triple. Texas left fielder Kolby Kovar put a stop to a three-run Connecticut second-inning rally, leaping and robbing Iannazzo of a two-out double.
WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “The talk before the game about how big it was because we did not want to get down and have to fight our way back (through the loser’s bracket),” Texas manager Bud Maddux said. “Now the next game is the biggest one.”
WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “That pushed me to do better,” Mumphrey said of seeing the Pirates and Cardinals watching him play. “They might remember me, so I wanted to play better than I had been playing.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Texas advances to Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final and will play California/North Carolina under the lights at Lamade. Connecticut will play again Monday in an elimination game against Washington with the winner going to the U.S. Final Four.