ROUND ROCK, Texas - Staring at a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the third, the Blanco baseball team never wavered.
With a mix of excellent defense, strong pitching and clutch base-running, the Panthers rallied to score the final three runs of their semifinal matchup with Van Alstyne, walking off with a 3-2 victory and a berth in the UIL Class 3A State Championship game.
It's the program's first state tournament victory.
"What a blessing," said head coach Bryan Wyatt. "These kids deserve that. This community deserves that. The last two games we've been down, and these guys have always found a way to come back and win it. I had no doubts in my mind."
After creating numerous opportunities to score in the first three innings, junior Austin Van Pelt finally got Blanco on the board in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI single. The shift in momentum was palpable. In the bottom of the fifth, senior Eddie Calzoncit led off with a triple. Two batters later, senior catcher Tyler LaRue drove him home on a sacrifice fly, tying the game at two. Then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, senior Justin Wardlow sealed the victory with another sac-fly.
"I knew he was going to come back with a curveball," Wardlow said. "I just put it in play, hoped for the best and it came through."
"I like it better when it comes in bunches," Wyatt said. "It's a tight game, and I knew one run was going to win it."
Calzoncit, who finished the day 4-for-4 at the plate, raced home to score the game-winning run, and he and Wardlow were mobbed by their teammates at midfield.
"It feels awesome," said LaRue. "Doing this senior year is amazing. The whole community was in the stands, and they're all pumped."
The seeds of this dramatic victory were planted during the Panthers' comeback victories over Bishop in last week's regional finals. Twice, Blanco needed to rally from 2-0 deficits to claim the regional title.
"That prepared us mentally and physically," Wardlow said. "I'm just so proud of my team, I'm out of words. It's just our bond. We never give up. We just believe. We believe, and we overcome."
Now, the Panthers are one win away from bringing home the program's first UIL state championship. They will face Wall in the title game at Dell Diamond on Saturday at 9 a.m.
"I don't think there's any pressure," LaRue said. "We're already here in the state championship. Win or lose, we're one of the top two teams in the state, so that's amazing. And it's our second comeback in the past two series, so to be able to do this, I'm pretty sure we're ready for just about anything."
"There's no calming these guys down," Wyatt said. "They're ready to play."
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