Mason Runnels

Cleburne sophomore Mason Runnels came up big for the Yellow Jackets in game 3 vs. Hallsville, retiring all six batters he faced with four strikeouts to preserve a 5-4 lead for the win.

WHITEHOUSE — The Cleburne Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings of their game 3 showdown vs. Hallsville and held on down the stretch for a 5-4 win Saturday to clinch a Class 5A area championship and advance to the Region II quarterfinals.

Cleburne (28-8) will face Lufkin (26-5-1) next week in the Class 5A Region II quarterfinals (series details to be determined).

Similar to Cleburne's bi-district playoff series vs. Highland Park, where the Jackets lost game 1 then bounced back with wins in games 2 and 3, it was the same in their area playoff matchup with No. 10 Hallsville (23-9-2), a state finalist from a year ago.

Hallsville won game 1, 7-6, in 10 innings Thursday night in Hallsville before Cleburne's Pete Martinez shut down the Bobcats in a 4-0 win Friday in Cleburne.

In the decisive game 3 Saturday at Whitehouse High School, the Jackets struck early with two runs as Cleburne scored in the first inning of all three games vs. Hallsville.

A Pedro Martinez fielder's choice grounder made it 1-0 to score Cooper Schneider, who drew a leadoff walk, then a Hallsville error gave Cleburne a 2-0 lead.

Pedro Martinez — who was the game 3 starter and winner vs. Highland Park — worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the first inning to get the Jackets right back to work.

And right back to work they went as Cleburne scored three runs in the top of the second inning. J.J. Perez hit a leadoff single and Falon Trevino laid down a bunt for a base hit. Schneider followed with another bunt that resulted in a Hallsville error, which allowed Trevino to score.

After a Hallsville pitching change, Zack Moore worked a walk before a two-run double by Aubrey Whitehead gave the Jackets a 5-0 lead.

Pedro Martinez allowed only one base runner in each of the second and third innings — a two-out hit-by-pitch in the second and a one-out single in the third — as he kept the Bobcats guessing early.

In the top of the fourth inning, Cleburne had a chacne to add to its lead after Moore and Whitehead hit back-to-back one-out singles but Hallsville ended the inning with a double play.

Pedro Martinez worked around a little trouble in the bottom of the fourth after a walk and error put two on. A wild pitch allowed both runners to get into scoring position but a fly-out to Schneider in center field kept it 5-0.

After Cleburne left two runners on base in the top of the fifth, Hallsville started its push in the home half of the inning. A single, walk and, after a wild pitch moved both runners to scoring position, an intentional walk loaded the bases with no outs for the Bobcats. A Logan Jones sacrifice fly got Hallsville on the board at 5-1 before Sawyer Dunagan hit an RBI single to make it 5-2. Ethan Miller then bunted for a base hit, which prompted Cleburne Coach Ross Taylor to bring Preston Russell in for Pedro Martinez.

With the bases loaded and only on out, Russell got a huge strikeout for out No. 2, but then he issued a four-pitch walk that scored a run and cut the deficit to two at 5-3. But Russell bounced back with another strikeout to leave the bases full.

Hallsville continued its push in the bottom of the sixth inning. A leadoff double by Hagen Carver got things started for the Bobcats. Carver then advanced to third base on a passed ball and a fielder's choice grounder to third base by Jones brought Carver in as the throw home was dropped to make it 5-4.

With the Jackets clinging to a one-run lead and with the game-tying run on base with no outs, Taylor brought in sophomore Mason Runnels, who worked three stellar innings in game 1's marathon loss.

Runnels got some help from his defense on his first pitch as Matt Houston hit a rocket deep into center field but Schneider made a sprinting catch for out No. 1. After Jones stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position, Runnels came through clutch with back-to-back strikeouts to get Cleburne out of the inning.

The Jackets had a solid opportunity for an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning after Pedro Martinez worked a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a goundout to put a runner in scoring position and only one out. After another groundout moved Martinez to third base, a third groundout left Martinez stranded at third base and Cleburne forced to protect a one-run game.

But with a confident Runnels on the mound, that didn't turn out to be an issue as the sophomore lefty got a strikeout and then made a nice snag on a line drive hit right back to the mound before getting his fourth strikeout in two innings to earn the save and send Cleburne to the third round of the playoffs.

Whitehead went 3-for-4 with two RBIs to lead Cleburne at the plate.

Pedro Martinez pitched 4 1/3 innings for the win with four hits, three walks and three runs allowed with two strikeouts as he improved to 7-0 on the season. Russell pitched 2/3 of an inning with two big strikeouts and one walk. And Runnels worked the final 2 innings with four strikeouts, no walks and no hits allowed as he retired the only six batters he faced for the save.

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