MADISONVILLE — For six innings Friday night, Troy never trailed against the Pollok Central Bulldogs and appeared to be on track to force a Game 3 for the third consecutive playoff series.
But everything unraveled for the Trojans in the final frame, when Troy was just one out from victory before the Bulldogs caught lightning in a bottle.
Central scored four runs with two outs in the top of the seventh to take a 5-3 lead that held up as the Bulldogs completed the sweep of Troy in a Class 3A Region III semifinal series at Mustang Field.
“I thought we had it, but we just kind of let it go,” Troy second baseman Kyle Torres said. “We just got complacent in the seventh inning and they took advantage of us.”
Troy senior pitcher Mason DuBois retired two of the first three batters in the seventh before Central loaded the bases with a ground-rule double and a walk. Rylan Redd and Aaron Sprinkle drew back-to-back, bases-loaded walks to tie the game at 3, and Bryce Case ripped a two-run single to left field to give Central its first lead of the night.
After DuBois induced a ground ball to second base to end Central’s rally, Bulldogs pitcher Dylan Cloonan retired Troy in order in the bottom half of the inning to secure the sweep.
“I was struggling up there on the mound as I got my pitch count up,” said DuBois, who relieved starter Tanner Creel with no outs in the fifth and had allowed just two hits prior to the seventh inning. “I kind of let my emotions get to me when I was getting squeezed in the strike zone. That’s really all I can say is that my emotions got to me.”
After dropping the series opener 11-1 on Thursday, the Trojans (29-11) jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning on a two-out RBI single by Jordan Cotanny (1-for-3) that scored Torres (2-for-3). The lead stood until the third when Central (23-14) tied the game with a single by Cloonan that plated courtesy runner Brandon Johnson.
Despite committing three errors, the Trojans worked out of jams for much of the contest and took advantage of miscues by the Bulldogs.
With runners at first and third in the fifth, Troy attempted a double-steal that appeared to be sniffed out, but the throw to home plate went over the head of Central catcher Aiden Dickson, allowing Zach Hrbacek to score. A wild pitch by starter Logun Hobbs then plated Torres from third base to put the Trojans up 3-1.
“It’s nice to play with the lead, obviously, but we still have to hit the ball better and not rely on such a slim lead against a team like that,” 15th-year Troy head coach Steve Sebesta said. “We were able to score by putting pressure on their defense, but we never really did drive in runs.”
Troy finished with five hits, and Central tallied eight. Creel threw four innings for the Trojans and allowed one run on three hits. Hobbs pitched 5 2/3 innings for the Bulldogs, giving up three runs and five hits.
Troy recorded its five hits through the opening three innings but didn’t register a hit the rest of the way, reaching base with three walks and one error over the final four frames.
“It’s not how I thought it would end, but it was a great ride,” DuBois said. “When you think Troy baseball, it’s always how far did they go in the playoffs, not if they made it. I’m glad to have been part of that tradition.”