Preston Griffith

Preston Griffith pitched 5 1/3 innings to help lead Cleburne past Abilene Wylie, 7-3, to take first place in the Mike Thompson Southwest Classic on Saturday.

FORT WORTH — After opening play in the Mike Thompson Southwest Classic with a 2-2 tie vs. El Paso Horizon, the Cleburne Yellow Jackets finished the weekend strong with four straight wins to take first place in the tournament.

On Friday, Cleburne picked up wins of 8-0 over Fort Worth Arlington Heights and 11-3 over Fort Worth Country Day. And on Saturday, the No. 3-ranked Jackets picked up a 10-0 win over THESA (Texas Home Educator’s Sports Association) to set up a championship showdown vs. Abilene Wylie.

A year ago in the Southwest Classic, Cleburne lost to Abilene Wylie, 12-0, in four innings, but the Jackets exacted some revenge this time around with a 7-3 win over the Bulldogs.

Cleburne Coach Ross Taylor said he liked how his team responded after the 2-2 tie vs. El Paso Horizon.

“I thought we played well after that first game,” Taylor said. “It’s like we needed that wake-up call. It’s one of those deals where I think we went out there and said, ‘We look better than them, they just traveled 10 hours, they’re El Paso.’ I don’t know. But the thing that they don’t get is El Paso rolls in here and they don’t know Cleburne; they’re not intimidated by the C on our hat. They just went out and played that day. 

“We went out there with the idea that the wind’s blowing out to left so we’re going to get ours and we had a lot of strikeouts and a lot of pop-ups. That kind of grounded us for the rest of the weekend to where we got back to hitting line drives and moving people over and doing the little things.”

In the game vs. El Paso Horizon, Ethan Flores hit a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning to force the tie right before the time limit. Flores’ RBI hit was one of only three base hits Cleburne (8-0-2) had in the game.

Against Arlington Heights, Cleburne turned a 1-0 lead after three innings into a 6-0 lead after a five-run fourth inning, highlighted by a two-run double from Jaxon Bigham.

In the bottom of the fourth, Arlington Heights had its most successful inning vs. Brady Douthitt as the Yellowjackets loaded the bases with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. But Douthitt got a strikeout and a flyout to right to leave the bases loaded.

Cleburne tacked on two more runs in the fifth on RBI singles from Flores and Douthitt. Then Douthitt had a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fifth with three flyouts to finish off a no-hitter.

Douthitt allowed three walks and two hit-by-pitches with no hits and one strikeout to move to 2-0 on the season with just two base hits allowed in two starts.

Cooper Schneider and Flores each went 2-for-3 vs. Arlington Heights to lead Cleburne’s offense.

Against Country Day, the Jackets plated six runs in the second inning to take control early with Dryden Taylor hitting a two-run single, Kevin Duran adding an RBI double, Flores recording an RBI triple, and Alex Archer with an RBI single.

After Country Day scored two runs in the third inning on a hit-by-pitch, error and double, Cleburne answered with four runs in the third, with Flores, Bigham, Hunter Blackburn, and Archer collecting RBIs. Blackburn’s RBI came on a triple.

Preston Russell pitched three innings to earn the win with two runs and one hit allowed with two strikeouts. Taylor pitched the final two innings with one run and three hits allowed with three strikeouts.

In the 10-0 win over THESA, Cleburne plated three runs in the first on a two-run single by Schneider and a sac fly by Bigham, then Schneider drove in two more runs in the second on a double to push Cleburne’s lead to 5-0. The Jackets closed it out with five runs in the fifth inning, highlighted by a Cason Gregory two-run double.

Mason Kile tossed a complete-game one-hit shutout with six strikeouts and three walks.

In the championship tilt vs. Abilene Wylie, the Bulldogs grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Cleburne answered on a two-run single by Schneider in the third inning.

In the fourth, Carter Edsel and Blackburn drew back-to-back walks to lead off the inning, with Edsel scoring on a dropped third strike to tie it up.

Cleburne then took the lead in the fifth inning. After Schneider was thrown out at home on a controversial ruling, Duran later came around to score on a Wylie error for a 4-3 advantage. Then Edsel hit an RBI single to score Kile as Cleburne made it 5-3.

Cleburne starter Preston Griffith followed that up with a 3-up, 3-down inning in the bottom of the fifth to maintain momentum. The Jackets then loaded the bases and scored a run on a balk in the top of the sixth for a 6-3 advantage. Cleburne added an insurance run in the top of the seventh on an Archer RBI groundout to score Edsel.

After Griffith was forced to exit due to approaching the pitch count limit, Gregory came on with one out in the sixth to try and earn the five-out save. Wylie made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh as the Bulldogs got the first two runners on with back-to-back singles. Gregory answered with back-to-back strikeouts before Wylie loaded the bases on a walk. But Gregory sealed it with his third strikeout of the inning to leave three baserunners stranded.

Griffith earned the win with eight hits and three runs allowed with six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

“I thought our pitching was good all weekend,” Taylor said. “Really happy with Preston Griffith’s outing against a very good hitting team. That’s a good hitting team right there, and I thought he held his own. He really did. I’m proud of the way he competed. It kind of makes us feel a little better in terms of where we’re at with our pitchers headed into next week and district after that. We feel pretty good about the way we pitched hits weekend.”

Entering the season, Taylor said one of the Jackets’ biggest focal points would be doing the little things at the plate as opposed to waiting for one big inning. And in the win over a good Abilene Wylie team that used six different pitchers, that’s what Cleburne did with two innings of two runs and three innings of one run.

“It’s what we have to do; we have to grind,” Taylor said. “For us to be the team we want to be this year, we have to grind. And then take advantage of what other teams do wrong, take advantage of their mistakes. We can’t sit around and wait for one big inning or wait for one big swing. We’re trying to get there; we’re headed that way.”

Next up for Cleburne is the Crowley ISD Baseball Tournament this weekend.

“[Our focus] is to get rid of some of the mental mistakes we’re still making,” Taylor said. “In terms of, you tell a guy to make a ground ball go through and we get thrown out at the plate. Or a guy goes up there and swings at the first pitch after they walk the bases loaded. Those are mental things that you’ve got to understand will cost you in big games.”

Cleburne is scheduled to open play in the Crowley Tournament with a doubleheader Thursday at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. vs. Boswell and Arlington Bowie.

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