O’Connor, Clark soar in round one

By Pat Turner

O’Connor and Clark swept their way to the area round of the playoffs in similar fashion.

Both teams had run-rule contests during their best-of-three bi-district series with O’Connor hammering out a 22-6 win over Clemens in game two and Clark charging to a 10-0 five-inning victory over Smithson Valley in its opener.

The two had to go the distance in their other games but both took control with the Panthers beginning their series with a 7-0 blanking and the Cougars pulling out a 5-3 win in the second game.

They also had standout performances in their run-rule outings. Clark pitcher Jakub Rayfield hurled a no-hitter, while Christian Estrada hit for the cycle while driving in seven runs.

All in all, the two District 28-6A representatives are feeling good about how things went. Now, they look to carry the success to the area playoffs. O’Connor (20-7) faces Churchill and Clark (15-9) plays Reagan.

“It was a good series,” O’Connor coach David Collenback said. “Anytime you sweep, you have to be pleased. We hit the ball well both games. This gives us momentum, something to build on.”

O’Connor looked sharp in game one. Mauro Bustamante hurled a four-hitter with five strikeouts. Offensively, the big blow came from Sean Rivas, who triggered a four-run fourth with a three-run homerun.

The Panthers had much more offensive explosions against Clemens.

The Buffaloes scored three runs in the top of the first, but that lead evaporated in the bottom half of the inning as the Panthers countered with four runs, all with two outs.

Jackson Blietz, who drove in four runs, roped a double to deep center. August Ramirez brought him home by smacking a two-bagger in the same vicinity.

Estrada began his cycle with a run-scoring single, before Sean Rivas and Cade Collenback delivered RBI doubles.

The hits continued to fall for O’Connor, which erupted for 12 runs to increase the margin to 16-4.

Estrada was a major reason for the big inning as he continued with an RBI double and triple. For his finale with the bat, the O’Connor outfielder launched a grand slam during the Panthers’ six-run third with two outs.

“It was exciting,” Estrada said. “I have never hit for the cycle. I realized I was doing it during my last at-bat. It was fun. We had a good day. Once the team got going, we got rolling. I was feeling confident and saw the ball well,”

Rayfield controlled Smithson Valley batters with a mixture of pitchers, while receiving solid defensive backing that included top-notch plays from third baseman Mike Carden and shortstop Jayson Flores.

The Cougars also shined at the plate, beginning with six runs in the first.

“We were solid,” Clark coach Aldo Velasquez said. “Offensively, defensively everything was working. It definitely helped getting six runs in the first. A lot of our kids were playing their first playoff game. I think that calmed them down and made them realize they can play.

“Rayfield has pitched very well all year. He did a great job.”

Rayfield set the tone offensively and defensively. Pitching-wise, he shut down a Smithson Valley team known for putting runs on the board regularly. That previous meeting with the Rangers (a 12-0 loss) served as a reminder.

On this day, the Rangers were silenced.

Rayfield also got things going offensively with a lead-off single in the first. Ben Hooper, who had two hits during the six-run outburst, Mark Moreno, Alex Barner and Flores followed suit.

The Cougars sent 12 batters to plate in the inning and also took advantage of three walks.

No doubt that put the Cougars in a good situation.

“(Smithson Valley) had beaten us earlier this season,” Rayfield said. “We wanted to make sure we came out here ready to play. When we got the six runs in the first inning that gave me a lot of confidence. My defense was phenomenal.

“I felt great. All my pitches were working. I was throwing strikes.”

Clark added another run in the fourth and finished with three in the fifth, including Barner’s RBI run-rule walk-off single up the middle.

Smithson Valley took an early 1-0 lead in game two, but the Cougars pulled in front with Dillon Bercher’s two-run double in the second.

After an error let Smithson Valley tied the score in the fourth, Clark regained the advantage with two runs in the fifth when Rayfield tripled and scored on a fielder’s choice. Marcus Cortez added an RBI double.

After upping the advantage to 5-2 in the seventh, Clark had to hold off a late Smithson Valley rally, but pitcher Barner added the finishing touch.

Brandeis and Brennan weren’t as fortunate in their bi-district series.

Brandeis fell to East Central 4-0 in the opener then lost a 9-8 walk-off in nine innings. New Braunfels topped Brennan, 4-0, 9-7.

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