CLIFTON – After opening the 2020 Texas high school baseball season with four consecutive losses in the highly-competitive China Spring Invitational Tournament, the Clifton Cubs returned to their winning ways last week.
Coming off a District 17-3A championship and Regional Semifinals appearance in 2019, Clifton snapped the losing streak with an 8-5 home opening victory over Class 4A Gatesville last Monday. Then the Cubs went on to split four games against quality opponents in the Rogers Tournament Thursday-Saturday.
Ranked 16th in the Class 3A pre-season state poll, Clifton (3-6) will stay busy during Spring Break, traveling to Salado Monday for a 7 p.m. game, returning home to host Whitney in the District 17-3A opener Tuesday at 7 p.m., before Tolar visits Clifton for a non-district contest at 3 p.m. Thursday.
“The expectations every year is to compete for the district championship and make a deep run in the playoffs,” Clifton baseball head coach Brian Slater said. “We have a large senior class of eight, and we will lean on their experience and leadership to help guide us through the season.
“We look to continue to improve as the season progresses and look forward to competing and maximizing our potential as a team.”
Using a five-run sixth inning, Clifton came from behind to notch its first victory of the season against Gatesville last Monday. Riley Perry pitched the last 1.2 innings in relief of Devin Byrd to earn the win on the mound. At the plate, the Cubs took advantage of four Gatesville errors as Hayden Newton went three-for-four while Mason Ochoa scored two runs.
The Cubs opened the Rogers Tournament by losing to Class 4A Caldwell, 7-3, last Thursday before falling in a rematch against Gatesville, 2-1, Friday. But Clifton responded by winning back-to-back games against Class 4A Silsbee, 2-1, and Class 6A Midway JV, 6-4, Saturday.
Six errors proved costly as the Cubs gave up seven unearned runs in their Rogers Tournament opening loss to Caldwell. Seven walks cost Clifton a win in the rematch walk-off loss to Gatesville, wasting a two-hit, seven strikeout complete game effort on the mound by Ochoa. Perry went two-for-three at the plate, driving in Clifton’s only run.
Sophomore Matthew Bronstad tossed a complete-game gem in a nail-biting 2-1 victory over Class 4A Silsbee Saturday. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Cubs walked off with the victory as Mason Brandenberger and Newton scored in the rally. Bronstad allowed an unearned run on five hits and two walks while striking out three.
On the strength of a five-run first inning, the Cubs held off the Midway JV to close out the tournament with two straight wins. Although the Clifton bats only produced two hits, Perry and Jake Sparkman equally shared the pitching duties, allowing only one earned run and five hits.
The Cubs opened the season at the China Spring Tournament with a rematch against their 2018 Class 3A state championship game opponent, Gateway College Preparatory from Georgetown. In a wild, high-scoring affair, the Cubs came up just short despite a four-run rally in the sixth to lose, 9-8.
Brandenberger led Clifton at the plate, going one-for-one while drawing three walks, scoring a run and knocking in two. Griffin Phillips went two-for-four with a run scored and an RBI, while Ochoa scored three runs and Perry knocked in two.
The Cubs went on to lose three more games in China Spring, falling to New Diana, 6-1, Thursday, losing to Class 4A host China Spring, 5-3, Friday, then stumbling to a 16-8 defeat to Class 4A Carthage Saturday.
Clifton wasted a solid effort on the mound by Phillips against China Spring, allowing only two hits and one unearned run in five innings of work, striking out three. In the loss to Carthage, Brandenberger went two-for-three at the plate scoring two runs and driving in three, while Byrd went two-of-three with three RBI.
Photos by DAVID HARDING
©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.