The Keller baseball team made short work of a long trip to the Region I semifinals in Lubbock last week and will play for a shot at the state tournament this week.
Keller disposed of Wolfforth Frenship in two straight games to advance, albeit needing extra innings in the first game to get the win. Keller got a clutch hit from Jake Wakamatsu in the sixth inning to score Brad Gneiting and tie the game, setting up the extra inning.
From there, Keller added three runs in the top of the eighth and held Frenship to one run in the bottom of the inning to earn the 7-5 win. The second game was all Keller in a 9-0 route.
Keller now faces Arlington Martin in the regional finals for a spot in the state tournament.
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Martin had eliminated Southlake Carroll in three games.
“Game 1 was definitely a dog fight,” Keller head coach Rob Stramp said. “We got an early lead and we think things are going OK and then they tie it up and we wiggle out of a jam.”
Nick Gardner came in to spell Lane Rice in Game 1, but Keller also had Bryan Berner – who collected the win – and Riley Coover come in to help settle things down and give Keller a chance, Stramp said.
“It was some late-inning heroics for Gneiting getting on and stealing second and then Wakamatsu getting a hit,” he said.
Once Keller got into the Frenship bullpen, the Indians did some damage which would prove pivitoal.
It was just the opposite for Keller in the deciding Game 2.
Keller started Gabe Martinez on the mound and the senior pitched a complete-game shutout.
“Gabe did an excellent job,” Stramp said. “He threw well and to be able to get a shutout against a team like that is very impressive.”
Martinez, a senior who has been pitching since his freshman year, also had seen duty at catcher until his junior year. He has also played some at third in the past.
“They put me wherever they need me,” Martinez said. “I trust Coach Stramp and [Jared] Stafford.”
Martinez has been the normal ‘second-game’ pitcher for Keller and his senior leadership has been a part of why this Keller team is making a deep run.
“The defense has been playing great behind me and making some great plays and picking me up,” Martinez said. “That’s why we’ve been able to make it this far. When we get down, we can pick each other up and that’s what I love about this team so much.”
Martinez was one of the 14 seniors on the team who graduated over the weekend after arriving back the same day as their graduation.
After this season, Martinez will head for the Air Force Academy where he has committed to play. But for now, Martinez is focused on pitching to the best of his ability and helping keep the Indians in the game.
Keller will need solid pitching depth as they head into the next round of the playoffs. The attrition can take its toll on a staff as there can be as many as three games per series and many can go extra innings on back-to-back-to-back days.
Keller has already played 10 playoff games, just a few shy of a full district schedule.
The finals series with Martin will start on Thursday, although exact times and locations were still to be finalized prior to the press deadline.
Stramp was looking at the possibility of TCU or Dallas Baptist fields for venues, but the outcome of those teams’ NCAA playoffs would dictate the available options.
Keller faced Martin in the first pre-season scrimmage of the year. The teams ended play tied at six runs each.