Quarterfinals or championship game – that’s how Evangel and Livonia personel described the first-round tilt in which the defending champion and No. 2 Eagles needed a comeback to win 4-3 and eliminate a feisty Wildcats squad.
After a Miller Parker solo home run tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth inning, courtesy runner Joey Usie scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning when Blake Buckman hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Ty Gurr, whose throw home got past catcher Dakota Walters.
“Sometimes you can play a first-round game, and it can actually hurt you,” said Evangel coach Tim Hulett about a normal first-round game for a No. 2 seed. “This was like a championship game.
“Because we won I can say this – it’s the greatest kind of game we could have played. In a championship game, that’s how you have to play. Play for seven innings, make plays, overcome mistakes and find a way to score.”
Evangel (24-8-1) will travel to No. 18 St. Louis on Thursday at 5 p.m. for a second-round matchup after the Saints topped No. 15 Berwick 10-9 in nine innings.
Livonia was far from a typical No. 31 seed, getting into the playoff bracket by a court ruling after the LHSAA forced the Wildcats to forfeit 18 wins because of an ineligible player.
The Wildcats, who were slated as a No. 11 seed before the forfeits, beat the true No. 31 seed Kaplan in a play-in game Saturday before making the trek to Shreveport.
Livonia coach Jason Lemoine said the past two weeks of appeals and overturns have been trying, but he couldn’t be more proud of how his team competed against the defending Class 2A state champions.
“We’ve been so up and down about whether we were going to get to play, and there was a 99 percent chance that we would not play,” Lemoine said. “I think Evangel and probably everybody in the state of Louisiana and even probably the LHSAA tried to set us up for failure right here, and they felt like we would just get killed.
“Our boys played their hearts out, and it was 3-2 in the sixth inning, and we were six outs away from upsetting the big team. We treated this like a quarterfinals game, and we were working backwards in the playoffs because of our situation.”
Livonia, who didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning, took advantage of two Eagles errors to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Evangel hit Livonia starting pitcher Austin Reich hard in the first inning, and the Eagles scored on a passed ball before Chance Defriend singled in Parker for a 2-1 lead.
The Wildcats answered with another run to tie the game in the second inning set up by two more errors (Evangel had five), and the pitcher’s duel was on.
Reich, who allowed three runs on six hits while striking out nine, had just two Eagles reach base in the next four innings.
Livonia grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning when a Logan Pizzolato sacrifice fly scored Ty Gurr, who doubled.
Evangel recaptured momentum with Parker’s solo home run, keeping alive the Eagles’ hopes of becoming the first Evangel baseball team to win consecutive state championships.
“Going up there, I didn’t intend to hit a home run, but it’s something the Lord provided me,” Parker said. “Going into that at-bat, I knew I needed to make something happen. It was late in the game, and we needed something to turn to energy up.
“We’re at the top of our game right now, and we didn’t have to worry about facing a first-round soft tosser that would create bad habits.”
Evangel’s trio of pitchers – starter Austin McWhiney, Shane Miears and closer Brooks Bryan – combined to allow just two hits while working around five errors.
McWhiney survived four errors, including one of his own, to allow two unearned runs on zero hits in three innings.
Miears allowed the lone earned run and both hits in his two innings.
Bryan, whose allowed just one earned run in 23 innings this season, stranded an inherited runner in the sixth inning before throwing a perfect seventh for his seventh save this season.