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Friday, May 28, 1999

Kangaroos pocket sweep of Eagles

Staff Writer
SNYDER, May 28 -- The Pecos Eagles had dodged some bullets in their first two series victories in the Class 4A baseball playoffs. But the rockets the Weatherford Kangaroos hit Thursday night sent the Eagles tumbling out of the state playoffs.

Weatherford scored eight times in the sixth inning of Game 1 to wipe out a 4-2 Pecos lead, then scored eight times in the fourth and fifth innings of Game 2 after the Eagles had erased a 4-1 Kangaroo lead and swept the best-of-three series at Snyder's Moffett Field by 10-4 and 15-9 final scores.

After getting the big pitch or the big defensive play against both Plainview and El Paso Riverside to avoid big innings, the Eagles couldn't pull off the trick again in the sixth inning of Game 1. Ben Pulliam's grand slam off Josh Casillas provided the margin of victory, and Garrett Hutson had a pair of three-run homers in both games, both coming after Pecos errors allowed Weatherford to keep innings alive. 

"They've got a good hitting ballclub, and against a good hitting ballclub like that you can't afford mistakes," Eagles' coach Bubba Williams said. "We made mistakes with two outs, and they came back and made us pay." 

Pulliam was the main problem for Pecos -- he had five doubles to go along with his Game 1 grand slam -- but even pitching around him didn't help. Down 8-4 in Game 2, Williams intentional walked Pulliam after a pair of two-out walks by Oscar Rodriguez to Will Hobbs and Barrett Weaver. But Todd Stovall took the third delivery from new pitcher Pifi Montoya over the fence in left-center field for the second grand slam of the night, and suddenly, what had been a 4-4 tie a few minutes earlier became a 12-4 Weatherford lead.

Their center fielder (Pulliam), shortstop (Mark Pierce), they were all good hitters. We tried to walk him with the bases loaded and the next kid hits a grand slam. They could just hit the ball," Williams said.

Casillas had struck out Stovall twice in the first game following Pulliam doubles. He also got Hutson to end the first, third and fifth innings to kill Kangaroo threats, the last coming after a pair of two out singles. But in the sixth Pierce opened with a hit to left and then Salgado couldn't come up with Chad Stansell's grounder in the hole for an error. 

Grant Coates' sacrifice fly to center scored Pierce and made it 3-2, and then after getting two strikes on Weaver, Casillas ended up walking him, then couldn't throw out Hobbs on a tap to the right of the mound, loading the bases.

That brought up Pulliam, of whom Williams said before the game, "He's their best hitter." This time, after Casillas fell behind in the count, he sent a 1-0 pitch over the fence in center for a grand slam and a 6-4 Kangaroo lead.

"Josh just had too many full counts. He threw a lot of pitches, and got behind on them, and they just sat on his fastball and boom!" Williams said. The loss left the junior with a final record of 11-2 on the season.

Pulliam's slam shook up the Eagles, as Luis Salgado and Louis Valencia then booted consecutive grounders by Todd Stroud and Bailey before Hutson sent one almost to the exact same spot as Pulliam's homer, giving Bailey more than enough runs to work with.

Neither Bailey, who improved to 7-2, or Hobbs, who won for the 10th time in 12 decisions, were overpowering, but both did enough to keep Pecos under control. Bailey also helped his own cause with an RBI ground out and sacrifice fly in the first and third innings to score Hobbs, who walked prior to Pulliam's first two doubles. But Pecos was able to answer those runs, after going up 1-0 in the first on a single by Mason Abila and a double down the line in right by Casillas.

A single by Kevin Bates and Mark Abila's double to the fence in left-center put the Eagles up, 2-1, and Pecos got two unearned runs in the fourth. After Bates singled with one out, Mark Abila reached on Pierce's error at shortstop. Bates went to third and scored on Ricky Herrera's sacrifice fly, and Pecos then stole a run, when Abila scored all the way from second when Oscar Luna beat out an infield hit between Bailey and Hobbs at first base. 

Abila had broken out of a two-month slump with a home run in Game 3 of Pecos' series against Riverside, and came close to hitting for the cycle in Game 2 on Thursday. He had two singles, a triple and a two-run homer to close out his varsity career, with the last two hits allowing Pecos to avoid seeing their season end under the 10-run rule, after a controversial call involving Abila at home plate in the sixth helped Weatherford stretch their lead to 15-5.

Abila's first inning single was wasted by Pecos, after Weatherford had grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first off Rodriguez, 8-3. Hutson's two run single scored Pulliam and Stroud, who doubled and singled with one away. In the second, Hobbs would single with two outs and score on double No. 4 by Pulliam for a 3-0 lead. 

"We threw him every pitch we could throw him, and he hit them all. That's all you can do with a hitter like that," said Williams.

John Gutierrez got Pecos on the board in the second, taking Hobbs' first pitch over the fence in right-center to make it 3-1. Weatherford got that run right back, as Bailey singled and after a throwing error by Abila on Hutson's sacrifice bunt, scored on Chad Stansell's sacrifice fly. But the Eagles then staged their own two out rally to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the inning.

Pecos didn't hit the ball out of the infield to get their first run. Luna reached on a bunt single, stole second on a wild pitch and went to third when Bailey's pickoff try from catcher sailed into center field. He scored as Mark Abila beat out an infield chop to third base and the Eagles then tied the game when Casillas sent one way out of the infield -- cracking his 11th homer of the season on a 3-2 pitch to tie the game.

Rodriguez then got the first two outs in the fourth before Pulliam hit double No. 5, down the line in left. Stoval was up next and he hit a hard shot to third that Herrera fielded, but threw over Gutierrez' head at first, scoring Pulliam to put Weatherford ahead for good.

An upset Rodriguez then walked Bailey on four pitches and grooved the next pitch to Hutson, who hammered it over the fence in right for an 8-4 lead.

"That hurt. Making an error and giving up four runs, and then they got four more right after that," Williams said. 

Pierce was involved in the controversial sixth inning play, as he failed to slide at home plate after new shortstop Hector Garcia let Coates' grounder go through his legs for an error. Pierce had reached on an error by Orlando Lara and Coates would score on a bad pickoff throw to third by Abila, which gave Weatherford an 11-run lead.

Hobbs, who almost blew a 10-run lead in the Kangaroos previous series against Wichita Falls Rider, had some rockets hit off him in the final two innings Thursday, but survived. After Abila tripled and scored on a passed ball to lead off the sixth, Gutierrez doubled down the line in right following a walk to Casillas. Piece then booted Garcia's grounder to shortstop, allowing both runners to come home before Hobbs got out of trouble, striking out Lara and Herrera after a deep fly to center by Bates. 

Luna sent Hutson to the fence to open the seventh, and Abila followed with a homer to the same spot in left-center after Alex Garcia singled off the third base bag. That cut the lead to six, before Hobbs ended it on a Casillas ground out to shortstop and Gutierrez liner to left field. 

"They beat all three of our pitchers. They hit all of them, but I'm still proud out the kids. They accomplished a lot this season," said Williams, whose team ended its year with a 24-8-1 record.

Weatherford, 24-9, advanced to the Region I-4A finals for the first time, and will await the winner of the Andrews-Lubbock Estacado series. The Eagles' former District 4-4A rivals allowed an unearned run in the seventh on Thursday and lost to Estacado, 2-1. Game 2 is at 12 noon on Saturday in Seminole.

Game 1

                                       R  H  E
Pecos            1 1 0   2 0 0   0  -- 4  7  4
Weatherford      1 0 1   0 0 8   x  --10  9  2
Casillas and Mk. Abila. Bailey and Coates.
E -- Pecos, Valencia 2, Salgado 2.
Weatherford, Bailey, Pierce. LOB -- Pecos 5, Weatherford 8.
2B -- Pecos, Casillas, Mk. Abila, Weatherford, Pulliam 2.
HR -- Weatherford, Pulliam, Hutson.
SF -- Pecos, Herrera. Weatherford, Bailey, Coates.
SB --, Pecos, Mk. Abila, Salgado. Weatherford, Coates.
CS -- Florez by Coates.
PB -- Pecos, Mk. Abila. Weatherford, Coates.
HBP -- Salgado by Bailey. WP -- Bailey (7-2, 7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K).
LP -- Casillas (11-2, 6 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 5 K).

Game 2

                                       R  H  E
Weatherford      2 1 1   4 4 3   0  --15 11  3
Pecos            0 1 3   0 0 4   2  -- 9  9  5
Hobbs and Bailey. Rodriguez, Montoya (5),
Valencia (7) and Mk. Abila.
E -- Weatherford, Bailey 2, Pierce.
Pecos, Mk. Abila 2, Herrera, Lara, H. Garcia.
DP -- Weatherford 1. LOB -- Pecos 3, EP Riverside 10.
2B -- Weatherford, Pulliam 3, Hutson. Pecos, Gutierrez
3B -- Pecos, Mk. Abila.
HR -- Weatherford, Hutson, Stovel. Pecos, Gutierrez, Casillas, Mk. Abila.
S -- Weatherford, Hutson. SF -- Weatherford, Stansell.
SB -- Weatherford, Stovel. Pecos, Luna, Mk. Abila, H. Garcia.
WP -- Pecos, Montoya.  PB -- Weatherford, Bailey.
W -- Hobbs (7-2, 7 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 9 K).
L -- Rodriguez (8-3, 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 10 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 7 K).

It's taps for Jazz after Blazers' 92-80 win

 Associated Press Writer
 PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Trail Blazers kept Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz from another shot at the NBA title. Now they will try to do the same to the San Antonio Spurs and David Robinson. 

 The Blazers are in the Western Conference finals, playing with the same kind of determination and defensive smarts that the Jazz were known for, at least before this series. 

 Portland put the Jazz away Thursday night with a 92-80 victory, a game in which the Blazers made their last 22 free throws and shut down Utah's final, desperate comeback. 

 ``We beat the Jazz at their own game,'' Portland's Jim Jackson said. ``We kept our poise, we were patient and we outworked them. But it's all behind us. We've got to get ready for the Spurs.'' 

 Game 1 is Saturday in San Antonio. The Spurs, led by the veteran Robinson and the up-and-coming Tim Duncan, have been waiting since sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers four straight. 

 ``The Spurs are on a tear right now,'' Portland point guard Damon Stoudamire said. ``But they're the team that's in our way. We can beat them, but it'll take what we did against Utah and then some.'' 

 The Jazz, who won Game 5 to stave off elimination for the sixth time in two postseasons, might have let their last shot with future Hall of Famers Malone and John Stockton slip away. 

 ``It's not the end of an era. I don't look at it like that,'' Malone said. ``We just have to wait and see, though. There's a lot of decisions to be made.'' 

 Malone had one of the worst postseason games of his career, scoring a career playoff-low eight points on 3-for-16 shooting. 

 ``I couldn't get anything going,'' said Malone, who has played 148 postseason games. ``I couldn't give our guys much help.'' 

 Despite Malone's familiar playoff foibles, the Jazz nearly pulled off another miraculous finish. 

 Portland took a 74-65 lead with 6:40 left when Greg Anthony found Walt Williams alone in the corner for a 3-pointer. The basket came after two turnovers by Malone -- a ball dropped out of bounds and an errant pass after he came up with a jump ball. 

 Utah gradually cut the lead, and got within two points on a layup by Bryon Russell and a free throw by Jeff Hornacek that made it 80-78 with 1:21 left. 

 Jackson's two free throws pushed the lead to 82-78 with 1:05 left. Russell missed on a 3-point attempt, and Brian Grant grabbed the rebound. Jackson made two more from the line to make it 84-78 with 45 seconds to go. 

 A 3-pointer by Stockton was short, and Isaiah Rider made eight free throws in the final 33 seconds to seal it. 

 ``We knew if we let them hang around, they could get hot and win the game,'' Portland's Rasheed Wallace said. ``We upped our defensive intensity, and it worked -- they didn't have anything left during the last couple of minutes. It worked, just like it has all season.'' 

 Rider scored 24 points, including 14-of-14 from the line, and Jackson had 17. Arvydas Sabonis and Wallace each had 14 points, and Grant had seven points and 12 rebounds. 

 ``The thing that counts is defense, and Portland broke us down,'' Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. ``Sabonis broke us in two, and we never recovered. Our defense is where we failed. We gave Portland baskets they wanted, and that's what killed us.'' 

 Hornacek scored 21 points, Russell 17 and Stockton had 14 points and 10 assists for the Jazz. 

 The Blazers moved the ball better than in the past two games, getting 18 assists, led by Jackson's six. The team had a franchise-low 10 in Games 4 and 5. 

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