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Crafty pitching gets East into final (w/videos, gallery)

By MIKE FORMAN
June 5, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.

Victoria East shortstop Jonathan Ortega celebrates as Richmond George Ranch runner Jonathan Kastens rises from the dirt after being tagged out at second base by Ortega, who  threw to first for a double play during the seventh inning of Thursday's Class 4A state semifinal game at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

ROUND ROCK - Kyle Craft took a moment to survey his surroundings when he went to the mound for the first time at Dell Diamond.

The Victoria East senior has pitched in pressure situations - but not in the UIL Baseball State Tournament.

"We try to say, 'Stay relaxed.' But it's a whole different atmosphere coming out here with the greatest fans in the world. We come out here and play the game we love."

Craft quickly got back to business as usual, pitching a three-hitter to lead the Titans to a 4-1 Class 4A semifinal win over Richmond George Ranch on Friday afternoon before a crowd of 2,576.

Craft's sixth straight win of the playoffs - and fifth in a must-win situation - lifted East to 30-9 and into Friday's 7 p.m. championship game against Aledo, a 9-1 winner over Hallsville.

"After that first pitch," Craft said, "I went out there, settled down and let my defense play great behind me."

Craft yielded only three hits and walked one while striking out four. He threw 66 of his 104 pitches for strikes and allowed only two runners to reach third base.

"Situations and atmospheres have no effect on Kyle," said East coach Wes Kolle. "He goes out there, he toes the rubber, and he does his job. He attacks the strike zone and lets the defense play behind him."

The Titans committed two errors - one that led to the only run scored by the Longhorns (33-8) - but also made some outstanding plays in the field.

None was better than second baseman Tim Gleinser's diving stop of a hard grounder by Brady Burns with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Gleinser flipped the ball to shortstop Jonathan Ortega, whose relay to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was in time for the double play.

"I just saw him hit it up the middle, and usually, anything close and I think I can get it, I just dive for it," Gleinser said. "It ended up in my glove, and we rolled two, and I was pretty excited."

"I was actually trying to get out of the way of the ball and turned around right when he caught it," Craft added. "That needs to be on Top 10 tonight."

Craft took the mound in the bottom of the first inning with a 2-0 lead, as the Titans had four of their 11 hits in the first inning.

Ortega, Mason Tipton, Cole Urban and Trent Brown singled to produce one run and another scored on an error by George Ranch shortstop Cameron Boudreaux.

"We talked all week long about it as soon as we found out we were the visiting team," Kolle said. "That's an opportunity for us to go out there and set the tone, and we did that."

East added a run in the third inning on singles by Gleinser and Gonzalez and a two-out double by Trent Brown.

The Longhorns scored in the fifth inning after right fielder Trevor Brown dropped a fly ball that would have been the second out. One out later, Oklahoma State signee Alex Shaver's blooper to left field bounced just in front and away from Bryce Martinez for a triple.

But Craft minimized the damage by getting a ground out to Gleinser at second.

"That kid pitched very well," George Ranch coach Greg Kobza, a Stroman graduate, said of Craft. "He threw some balls in some counts that you've got to have some confidence to throw - 3-1 change-ups and 3-1 sliders and curveballs. He threw them for strikes and had us a little off-balance."

The Titans added a run in the seventh when Tipton drove a 1-1 pitch into the bullpen in left-center field for his fifth home run of the season.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Tipton said. "I was 'Oh man, just put it in play.' I hit it and thought I popped it up, and I saw it falling, and I was like, 'Oh crap, I've got to run,' and then, it left the yard."

Craft went to the mound for the seventh, and Jonathan Kastens reached when a grounder went through the legs of Urban at third base. But Gleinser's stop made it moot.

"We talked who was going to be the X factor," Kolle said of Gleinser. "He's had tough luck this year as far as hitting the ball hard just right at people, and he did again today. Man, he came up big with the glove. That's a huge play right there. Kind of took the wind out of their sails."

Craft put the finishing touches on the win by getting Will Gay to ground out to Gonzalez at first.

"I knew they could hit to all parts of the field, so I tried to keep it low and let them get themselves out by grounding out," he said. "It's great. There's no better way than to win it today and go out there tomorrow and put up that state championship trophy."

NOTES

•  Senior Mike Garcia is expected to be on the mound for Victoria East for the state final.

• The last time a Victoria team advanced to the state tournament final was in 1985, when Stroman won the Class 5A championship.

• Victoria East will be the home team for the state championship game.

Class 4A State Semifinal

Victoria East 4, Richmond George Ranch 1

East 201 000 1 - 4 11 2

George Ranch 000 010 0 - 1 3 1

Kyle Craft and Mason Tipton. Grant Page and Garrett Gray. W: Craft (12-2). L: Page (8-3). Highlights: (E) Craft 7 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 4 SO; Jonathan Ortega 2 for 4, R; Tim Gleinser 2 for 3, R; Tipton 2 for 4, solo HR; Adrian Gonzalez 2 for 4; Trent Brown 1 for 2, RBI; Bryce Martinez 1 for 3, 2B. (GR) Alex Shaver 2 for 3, 3B, RBI; Will Gay 1 for 3, R. Records: East 30-9; George Ranch 33-9.

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