For the first time since 2010, Meridian Yellowjacket baseball clinches share of District 14-1A title, faces Jonesboro in first place tiebreaker showdown Monday at Valley Mills
By sweeping to victory in each of their final three District 14-1A games, the Meridian Yellowjacket baseball team not only secured a berth into the Class 1A playoffs for the first time since 2017, the Jackets clinched a share of their first district title since 2010.
But before heading into the postseason, the Jackets (7-1 in district, 9-7 overall) must face the Jonesboro Eagles (7-1, 15-5) for the third time in a tie-breaker showdown for first place at 7 p.m. Monday in Valley Mills.
Needing a win in the regular season finale to force a tie for the district crown, the Jackets left no doubt by run-ruling the third place Oglesby Tigers, 11-1, in six innings Monday afternoon, extending their winning streak to seven straight games.
“This win puts us in a play-in game to decide who will represent the district as first and second place,” Meridian baseball head coach Darrell Hogan said. “I am excited for these kids to have success and look forward to bonus baseball.
“The kids have been really focused the last couple of weeks, and I have seen significant improvements in batting practice as well as defensive work. I can feel this team coming together, and it looks like we are peaking at the right time.”
Against Oglesby, Ian Gomez and Matty Jones combined on the mound to strike out 17 in the six-inning game. Also leading the Jackets at the plate, Gomez went three-for-five with two runs scored and two more batted in, while Brayden Wehmeyer went three-for-five with two RBIs and two runs scored. Also contributing to the win, Cooper Katzer went two-for-three, Bradley Kihnel went two-for three with two runs batted in and Junior Rodriguez went two-for-four with two runs scored.
Meridian began the stretch run in the second round of district with a dominating 14-1 home victory over Aquilla last Tuesday. Gomez tossed a two-hitter, allowing one earned run while striking out nine over four innings before Wehmeyer finished up in the fifth with two punchouts.
Wehmeyer enjoyed a perfect game at the plate, going three-for-three with three runs scored and three RBIs, while Ben Beaudin went two for three with three runs scored and an RBI.
Setting up the season finale against Oglesby, the Jackets knocked off Gholson, 10-1, last Friday. Jones and Gomez once again shared duties on the mound as Gomez tossed four innings of no-hit ball while striking out eight to close out the win. Jones helped out his own cause with three runs batted in, while Kihnel knocked in two more.
But none of it would have mattered if not for Meridian’s shocking 7-2 victory over Jonesboro April 14 to open the second round of district and force the tie for first place.
With sophomore starting pitcher Matty Jones opening the game by tossing four shutout innings, the Jackets jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the second and never looked back. Jonesboro won the first round matchup, 11-1, in Meridian, but the Jackets have not lost a game since then.
“Matty kept Jonesboro off balance the entire game by mixing in the curve ball,” Hogan said. “We hit the ball hard, and we were very selective with our swings. We had runners in scoring positions every inning.”
Reaping the benefits of a restructured district competition format in their first season playing in Class 1A baseball, the Jackets find themselves in contention for their first trip to the playoffs in six seasons.
Due to the shortage of smaller schools with baseball programs, the University Interscholastic League has always combined Class 2A and 1A teams into consolidated districts for the regular season, then separating them for the playoffs into two different postseason tournament brackets.
Packed in a district comprised of 11 Class 2A and 1A baseball teams, the District 14 coaches voted to split into separate leagues by classification for district play. Therefore, Meridian finds itself competing in District 14-1A against Jonesboro, Gholson, Aquilla and Oglesby, while District 14-2A consists of Class 2A’s defending state champion and fourth-ranked Valley Mills, third-ranked Bosqueville, Crawford, Moody, Bruceville-Eddy and Hico.
While four teams advance to the playoffs in Class 2A, only the top two teams in the Class 1A district will punch their ticket into the postseason.
“I believe this team has a shot at the playoffs, if we can get by Jonesboro,” Hogan said before district competition began. “Oglesby, Gholson and Aquilla round out our district, but Jonesboro will definitely be the team to beat in district.”
Despite losing their district opener against the Jonesboro Eagles, 11-1, at home March 28, the Jackets bounced back to run-rule the Aquilla Cougars, 13-3 on the road March 31 before winning their second straight by knocking off the Gholson Wildcats, 8-1, Monday evening at Jacket Field.
“We played well against Aquilla,” Hogan said. “Overall, I still feel like we are really a young squad. We have had a couple of additions from seniors Brady Taylor and Braxton Allen along with our four-year starter and centerfielder JR Rodriguez. We also have our three-year starter Brayden Wehmeyer returning as our catcher and relief pitcher.
“Sophomores Ian Gomez and Matty Jones are handling the bulk of our pitching duties with a year under their belts on the mound, while sophomore Ben Beaudin mans second base. But the strength of our team lies in the leadership from Rodriguez and Wehmeyer.”
In posting their first district win against Aquilla, the Jackets received a strong starting pitching performance from Jones, who struck out eight while surrendering only one hit and one earned run over 3.1 innings before Wehmeyer closed out the victory in relief. At the plate, Beaudin was two-for-two, scoring two runs and driving in four more, Wehmeyer hit a triple and scored three runs, and Rodriguez collected two runs batted in.
Posting back-to-back wins for the first time this season by knocking off Gholson Monday, the Jackets jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back. Gomez tossed a two-hit shutout for four innings while striking out 10 before Weymeyer punched out five over the last three innings to secure the key district victory.
At the plate, Wehmeyer and Rodriguez led Meridian by smacking three hits apiece while Wehmeyer and Austin Pogue knocked in two runs each.
Wrapping the first round of district with back-to-back wins over Gholson, 8-1, at home April 3, and on the road against Oglesby, 9-6, in Waco April 7, the Jackets set up the rematch showdown with Jonesboro.
Against Gholson, Gomez and Wehmeyer combined on the mound to shut down the Wildcats while striking out 15, Gomez setting down 10 over four innings while Wehmeyer sent five batters back to the dugout. Wehmeyer led the way with his bat as well, going three-for four with two runs batted in, while Rodriguez went three-for-four with a run scored and Austin Pogue knocking in two runs.
In a hard-fought win over Oglesby, Pogue laid down a game-clinching, run-scoring bunt late in the game. Beaudin went three-for-five with two runs scored, Kihnel went two-for-three, Gomez went two-for-four with two runs scored, and Jones went two-for-two with two RBIs. Gomez and Jones shared the mound duty in the win over Oglesby, combining for 18 strikeouts.
Now, the District 14-1A title will be decided with a rubber match between Meridian and Jonesboro. And then, both teams will turn their attention to the postseason, where they will take on the top two teams from District 13-1A – the Gordon Longhorns and the Graford Rabbits.
“We knew we were going to need to play well for the final three games to get in the playoffs,” Hogan said. “Now, we get to play for the district title, and we will have to earn it.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & WENDY OROZCO
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