Chris Rupp has faith in the Deer.
Facing a deciding game three in the Region III-6A championship series against Fort Bend Travis without his top two pitchers available and facing the opponent’s top gun, the Deer Park head coach never wavered.
The Deer Park Deer had just squared the series at one game apiece following a masterful performance by lefthander Clay Aguilar in a 3-0 victory. Aguilar had to depart the game with one out in the seventh inning after he exceeded the UIL’s new 110-pitch limit for a single game.
Adrian Gonzales came in to record the final two outs with the potential game-tying run at the plate. Deer Park utilized Peyton Sherlin in a 3-2 loss to Travis in game one of the series.
Travis was poised to start ace Ryan Rickett in game three when Rupp was asked his pitching plans with a berth in the Class 6A state baseball tournament at stake.
“No doubt we’re going to have to piece something together,” Rupp said. “But we’ve got the guys that can do it. You saw Gonzales, the kid that came in at the end of game two. He’s got some good stuff.
“Mark Barrow has been pretty good for us lately,” Rupp said. “If we can get a couple of innings out of Barrow and get the ball to Adrian, I think we’re going to have as good a chance as anybody.”
Barrow started game three for Deer Park and handed it off to Gonzales with one out in the second inning. Gonzales limited Travis to one run over the final 6 1/3 innings as Deer Park won 2-1 in eight innings to secure the regional title and first berth in the state tournament since 1990.
Former Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte was a member of that 1990 Deer Park team that lost to Duncanville in the large-school classification (Class 5A) state title game.
Rupp will be returning to the state baseball tournament for the first time since leading North Shore and first-round Major League Baseball draftee Brian Bohanon there 30 years ago (1987).
“When we came back from last year, nobody expected this, but these guys have overachieved,” Rupp said. “Now we have to go up there and win this thing.”
Jacobi Martinez walked with the bases loaded in the eighth inning against Travis to push across the game-winning RBI.
Gonzales finished with four strikeouts and no walks over 82 pitches. After yielding the game-tying run in the seventh inning, Gonzales came back strong in the eighth.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Deer Park after being nationally ranked and winning 35 consecutive games to open the 2016 season only to lose the final two games of the season in the regional title series against Langham Creek.
The Deer (33-8) will play in the 6A state semifinals on June 9 at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. If they win, they’ll play in the state championship game the next day.
In the game two elimination win over Travis (3-0), Chase Keng, Josiah Ortiz and Blake Martin delivered RBI hits while Aguilar gave up three hits and struck out seven.
Now Rupp will have faith in his team and full rest for his pitching staff heading to the state tournament.