SULPHUR – Doyle High’s Andrew Yuratich was nearing the end of his special evening, nine pitches away from reaching the maximum number in a game.
With a runner on and Welsh bringing mammoth batter Ryan McKenzie – a 6-foot-5, 270-pound power hitter to the plate – Yuratich simply went to work.
It was a matchup that Yuratich was mindful all game long, getting McKenzie to fly out to Cade Watts in medium center field to cap the biggest performance of his career, nailing down a complete-game victory in No. 2 Doyle’s 5-2 triumph over No. 3 Welsh at McMurry Park in a Class 2A state semifinal matchup.
“Our goal with him was nothing down the middle, nothing inside,” Yuratich said of McKenzie, who was 1-for-4 with a single to right. “Wanted to keep it soft and away. Anything down and off-speed and he just got under it and let us win the game.”
Admittedly it wasn’t one of Yuratich’s vintage performances with Welsh recording 10 hits, including a two-run homer in the sixth. The sophomore also walked three batters but was able to remain composed to help the Tigers advance to Monday’s Class 2A state championship game at 6 p.m. against Kinder.
“He’s a competitor, he never gives up or gives in,” Doyle coach Tim Beatty said of Yuratich. “I don’t know if he ever gets nervous, rattled or anything. He still gets up there and delivers big pitch after big pitch. Hat’s off to him. He threw a heck of a game. He’s got us to playing one more.”
Welsh, which had scored 10-plus runs 14 times this season, had five hits through three innings and had eight baserunners, but trailed 3-0.
However, Yuratich was able to strand five runners, including three in scoring position during that span.
“It was so much relief, not having that pressure, at least from the beginning,” Yuratich said of his team’s 3-run first inning. “Just settle in, throw strikes and let them hit it because our defense was amazing. Just let them field it and let them do something big.”
Doyle’s defense was the perfect complement to Yuratich’s pitching effort, taking Welsh out of several innings that fizzled after showing signs of being potential turning points.
The began in the bottom of the first when left fielder Logan Turner threw out Welsh’s Austyn Benoit trying to stretch a one-out single into a double with Braden Keen covering at second base.
Welsh threatened in the third when its first two batters safely reached base with a single and walk when shortstop Mason Davis intervened to short-circuit the Greyhounds potential rally.
Davis was shaded to the second base side of second base when he alertly broke on a liner from McKenzie into the hole for the first out of the inning, quickly throwing to Keen at second base for a key double play.
Yuratich followed with a fly ball out to Turner in left field to end the inning.
“If we don’t make the play first that could have led to a huge inning,” Beatty said. “It was a rally killer for them. Double plays kill innings.”
Doyle’s defense also recorded two outs at third base to end the fifth and sixth innings.
With the Tigers leading 4-0, Yuratich picked off Benoit trying to steal third base.
They added another heads-up play during Welsh’s two-run sixth when the Greyhounds came up with an inside single, but first baseman Tyson Stewart caught Collin Richard trying to go from second to third, throwing to teammate Brock Adams for the final out.
“Our defense has been solid all year and that’s what it takes to win at this point in the season,” Beatty said. “It’s defense and pitching. We practice defense. I told them defense was going to win the ball game for us and it really did.”
Yuratich took responsibility after losing his shutout bid on Parker Primeaux’s two-run homer on a full-count offering to left field.
They Greyhounds wound up with four hits in the innings but Yuratich didn’t buckle, getting a pop out in foul territory to catcher Cole Mack and Stewart’s throw across the infield to Adams.
“It was definitely not one of my best games I’ve had all year,” Yuratich said. “Without the defense behind me it would have been a lot worse. They weren’t striking out (five) a lot and I was walking a lot of people (three), getting a lot of base hits and the defense behind me was amazing. They pretty much led us through this game.”
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