Gladiator Baseball honors seniors and treats fans to undefeated district title

Image: As a former player of Coach Loyd Davidson (1927-2010) who Davidson Field in Italy is named after, I know he’s thrilled to see Italy win the 2014 District Championship with a perfect mark of 10-0. In the photo: After defeating Frost 12-4 at home to finish their district campaign strong, Italy ISD Principal Lee Joffre presents the Gladiators with the championship trophy!

As a former player of Coach Loyd Davidson (1927-2010) who Davidson Field in Italy is named after, I know he’s thrilled to see Italy win the 2014 District Championship with a perfect mark of 10-0. In the photo: After defeating Frost 12-4 at home to finish their district campaign strong, Italy ISD Principal Lee Joffre presents the Gladiators with the championship trophy! (Barry Byers)

Italy, Davidson Field — Congratulations to Italy Gladiator Baseball on their perfect district mark of 10-0 to be the undisputed 2014 Class A district champions! Senior pitcher Tyler Anderson held a 3-0 lead after two innings before handing over the pitching duties to sophomore Ryan Connor who gave a gutsy and determined effort the rest of the way.

The Gladiator Hitmen jabbed and jabbed before finally breaking the game open in the sixth-inning to finish off the visiting Frost Polar Bears 12-4. An inside-the-park home run by Levi McBride, a triple by Bailey Walton, a wall banger by John Escamilla for a double and a 2 run RBI double on error by John Byers punctuated the effort by Italy’s offense.

The Old Ball Game:
For Senior Day, Italy’s starting lineup consisted of seniors Kevin Roldan at third, Tyler Anderson on the mound, Zain Byers at second and Bailey Walton at first-base. Ryan Connor played short, Cody Boyd pulled down his cap in left field, Levi McBride covered centerfield and Kyle Forenberry filled right field. John Escamilla was behind the catcher’s mask and with Frost hoping to play spoiler in hopes of handing Italy their first loss in district play.

During a pre game ceremony to honor Italy’s five seniors who were about to play their final home game, Tyler Anderson, escorted by his parents Amy Anderson and Steve Anderson, Kevin Roldan, escorted by his mother Flossie Gowin, Bailey Walton, escorted by his mother Michele Richards Walton, and Zain Byers, escorted by his grandmother Ann Byers and father Barry Byers, were presented gift bags while Italy ISD Principal Lee Joffre was on the microphone giving their introductions. Senior Eric Carson was unable to attend since he was representing Italy’s Track and Field team at the regional track meet in Abilene.

Top of first-inning:
Frost opened with a hit to second but Byers scooped it up and threw to Walton at first for the first out. Frost sends a fly ball high into left but Boyd uses both hands to secure the catch for the second out. The next batter chops one to the left of the mound where the Anderson slaps it down and Roldan collects the ricochet. Roldan holds the ball and Frost has a runner on base. Frost steals second but Anderson is focused on the batter. With a swing and a miss for strike three and the third out, Anderson matter-of-factly strides to the Italy dugout. The score is 0-0.

Bottom of first-inning:
With one out, Boyd battles his way on base with a walk and later reaches second after Anderson gets on base with walk. Roldan strokes a hit into left field to score Boyd. 1-0 Italy leads. Moments later, Roldan steals second with a slide to beat the throw. Anderson is poised at third for an approach to home when a wild pitch green lights his takeoff. Anderson slides into the Frost pitcher who tries to catch, turn and tag Anderson at the home plate entrance but the ball is never secured and Italy scores their second run, 2-0. Roldan scurries to third during the chaos. Frost records a strikeout for the second out then Fortenberry battles to a full count before a ball outside sends him to first-base. Two runners are on base for Italy but a popup to the mound ends the inning leaving two runners stranded.

Top of second-inning:
A ground ball to Byers at second-base is swallowed up by the senior who connects with Walton at first-base for the first out. Frost gets a runner on base but with 2 outs showing on the board, Anderson takes down another Frost batter after a whiff on a strike-three ball gives Italy the third out. The score remains 2-0 in favor of the home team.

Bottom of second-inning:
With one out, Escamilla singles past the shortstop to reach first base. Ty Windham pinch runs for Escamilla. McBride earns a walk to give Italy a pair of runners on base. With Boyd up to bat, Windham is forced out at third when Boyd strategically places a bunt down the third-base line. Boyd is safe at first, however, with McBride now on second. Anderson returns to the plate and records a RBI double to score McBride and move Boyd to second. 3-0 Italy leads. Another popup to the mound ends this inning as well and again Italy strands two.

The Gladiator Hitmen flirted with an early blowout but Frost was managing to keep the score close, trailing just 3-0 going into the top of the third.

Top of third-inning:
Gladiator head coach Jon Cady went ahead and switched out Anderson with Connor who was prepared to take over on the mound. Anderson is now playing shortstop. Frost finally makes some noise with their bats and scores 2 runs in the frame. With one out on the board, Connor strikes out the next Frost batter for the second out. A grounder hit to Byers at second is quickly turned into the third out Italy needed to get out of the jam, with Walton making the grab at first to secure Italy’s lead. Italy is still in front 3-2 but the Polar Bears are trying to heat up.

Bottom of third-inning:
Connor leads off for Italy and is soon hit by a pitch and is awarded first-base. Connor then beats a throw down to steal second-base. Frost records a strikeout for the first out. Walton is in deep thought as steps into the batter’s box. The senior spots a pitch he likes and turns it into a RBI triple that the hometown fans love! Connor races home to give Italy a 4-0 advantage. Frost records a strikeout for the second out. Escamilla, turns a base hit on error into a RBI double with a head-first slide into second-base for good measure. Walton scoots across home plate with ease to put Italy up, 5-2.

Again, Windham pinch runs for Escamilla. McBride is walked for the second time, two runners on base for the Gladiators with two outs. Frost misfires to first trying to catch McBride away from the bag. Windham advances to third and McBride is dusting himself off at second. Boyd battles his way to a walk but as the lefty turns to discard his bat and make the jaunt down to first, the Frost catcher fires the ball to his third-baseman who tags Windham out before he can slide back. The tricky play by Frost was the third out they needed to end the third-inning. Italy’s Hitmen still managed to get enough done to build their 5-2 lead.

Top of fourth-inning:
Frost leads off with a walk and then a bunt by their next batter catches Italy’s defense off guard, allowing Frost runners at first and second-base. Frost bunts again but this time Connor fields it and shoots the throw down to first where Walton is waiting to make the grab for the sure out. Runners advanced to second and third-base. A grounder to Anderson is played well by the senior who wisely throws to Walton for the second out. Frost scored on the play to tighten the score 5-3 and their remaining base runner advanced to third. The next batter pops one up into foul territory beyond third-base but Roldan is under it quickly and tracks the ball into his mitt for the third out.

Bottom of fourth-inning:
Anderson begins the bottom of the fourth by laying off and avoiding 4 straight balls outside of the strike zone. With Anderson awarded first-base, the Frost coach walks to the mound and checks on the status of his pitcher. No change is made by Frost and Roldan returns to the batter’s box. With Roldan still healing from a ball that bruised his left cheek earlier in the season, the brave but savvy senior is hit by a pitch again and is also awarded first-base. Anderson advances to second while the Frost coaching staff makes a pitching change.

Connor is the first to face the new pitcher and welcomes the Polar Bear hurler with a hard liner to third to load the bases. Fortenberry hits one back to the mound and Frost throws home to get the force out at the play. Italy still has the bases loaded. Italy’s next batter pops-up to the mound as Frost manages to secure two quick outs. Byers swings and misses on strike-three but the ball remains live on a drop by the catcher and Byers heads to first. The Frost catcher does the right thing by opting to just step on home plate for the force out rather than risk a throw down the line to first. And with that, Italy strands three runners and the score remains too close for comfort, 5-3 with Italy still in front.

Top of the fifth-inning:
With Connor still on the mound for Italy, Italy’s defense does not waste any time collecting the first two outs. Frost does manage a runner on first but when he tries to steal second, Escamilla rises from behind home plate and guns the Polar Bear down. Anderson was on the receiving mitt of Escamilla’s throw and a strong swipe convinced the umpire to call the runner out. The Frost coach was unhappy with the ruling and let the ump know about it. The play stood for third out. Still 5-3 with Italy’s Hitmen hustling to the dugout to grab their bats.

Bottom of the fifth-inning:
Frost strikes out Italy’s first batter. McBride, however, invigorates the crowd with a deep shot into centerfield that sails far over the heads of the Frost outfielders. The speedy McBride keeps his turns tight on the bases as he passes first, rounds second, opens up while heading to third and then gets the go sign from Coach Cady at third. The throw is just a tad late as McBride hops onto home plate for his second home run of the season. With the timely effort giving Italy a 6-3 edge and swinging the momentum back over to Italy, McBride is embraced and slapped upside the helmet repeatedly by his teammates who had stormed out of the dugout to celebrate.

A groggy McBride made sure to stop by the fence for a quick moment with his father, Darrell McBride, who offered a hand up to the fence to congratulate his son. McBride’s first homer this season was an over-the-fence ball at Avalon earlier in district play.

Boyd follows up McBride’s accomplishment by earning a free base. Boyd soon steals second-base. Italy’s next batter grounds out as Frost collects their second out. Boyd reaches third but another strikeout keeps the Polar Bears in the game.

Top of the sixth-inning:
Connor remains on the mound but Frost manages to earn a walk to start the sixth. Against the next Polar Bear batter, Connor falls behind in 3-0 in the pitch count but fights his way back into it and forces a full count situation for the batter. Connor gets a swing and a miss for strike-three to get the out. More importantly, the sophomore convinces Italy’s coaching staff that he’s the right man for the job. A pop-up to second is caught by Byers for the second out, just what Connor needed. Back in zone, Connor strikes out the third batter swinging for the third out. Frost stranded a runner at second. The score remains 6-3 with Italy on the verge of distancing themselves.

Bottom of the sixth-inning:
Connor leads off with a double and slides into second-base safely. The umpire initially called Connor out but overturned his own call, prompting another discussion with the Frost coach. The ruling stood. And then, to kick the Polar Bears when their down even further, a single by Fortenberry scores Connor from second, 7-3 Italy leads.

Italy then hits into a double-play, and just like that, Frost has 2 outs and Italy has no runners on base. Zain Byers goes to the plate and is soon hit by a pitch and is awarded first-base. Frost decides to make another pitching change. And with that, Escamilla rockets a viscous shot toward the left field wall, “Kablam!” The ball sounded like a cannon blast as it drilled the metal wall about 4 feet up from its base and marked at 235 feet. It may not have cleared the wall but Zain Byers was on his horse and scored all the way from first-base for Escamilla’s second RBI of the contest, improving Italy’s lead to 8-3. Escamilla, who I have determined must be a super human in order to play at the level he does despite being hobbled by a leg injury, one-legged out a double on the play as well.

An interview with Escamilla following the game revealed the source of his superior genetics, “I get all my skills from my mom,” answered Escamilla with a grin. (Sorry, Jason, I just ask the tough questions.)

Windham pinch runs for Escamilla. Don’t look now, but here comes McBride back up to take a whack at the Frost reliever. McBride records an RBI double this time as Windham hurries home to make the score 9-3. Boyd takes another turn and again gets on base with a walk. McBride eventually maneuvers over to third. A wild pitch sends McBride sprinting home to make the score 10-3. Boyd reaches third with McBride distracting the Polar Bear defense. Anderson then earns a walk to put Italy runners at the corners.

Remember, all of this took place after Frost recorded that double-play. In the midst of this 3 run, 2 out rally, a loud ovation is heard as junior John “J.B.” Byers, one of the district’s leading sluggers, gets his first taste of action as a pinch hitter. Willing to take a back seat to help honor Italy’s seniors for Senior Day, J.B. was chomping at the bit to make a contribution. He looked confident at the plate but the Frost pitcher had 2 quick strikes on him. J.B. just kept fouling balls off until he finally straightened one out to record a 2RBI double on error. Boyd and Anderson both scored and suddenly the 3 run, 2 out rally becomes a 5 run, 2 out rally. Italy’s lead increased 12-3. Frost records a strikeout for the third out but the Hitmen had all but sealed the deal.

Top of the seventh-inning:
J.B. then subs in for Roldan at third but not without presenting the senior with an engraved wooden bat signed by all the players and coaches. Frost manages to score a run during their final at bat but a grounder collected by Walton at first set the stage for a fun finish. Tyler Vencill subbed in for Walton at first-base and also presented the senior engraved wooden bat signed by all the players and coaches. And that was the plan for Zain Byers to be subbed out and Anderson to be subbed out with both seniors to be presented their bats.

However, Frost was still trying to rally back and disrupted Coach Cady’s plans a bit. With runners at first and second, a grounder down the third-base line was snagged by John Byers who stepped on the corner bag for a force out and then delivered a throw across the infield, and on the money, to the waiting mitt of Vencill at first-base for the game-ending double-play.

The final bat presentations had to be made on the fly with everyone rushing to congratulate John Byers near the Italy dugout. Frost was unable to play spoiler in Italy’s quest for district perfection but at least they got to disrupt Italy’s senior farewell’s.

With the 12-4 win over Frost, the Gladiators posted a perfect 10-0 mark throughout district play to be undefeated as the 2014 Class A district champions. Italy had already secured a first-round bye and an automatic bi-district championship to enter the playoffs as a #1 seed. Immediately following the game, Italy ISD principal presented the Gladiator Hitmen with the championship trophy that they held high while celebrating out on the infield. It was the best of days…RISE TO VICTORY!!!

Playoff Update: Since Italy has a bye, the Gladiators will be playing the winner of the game between the District 15 2nd place team vs. the District 16 3rd place team. Muenster ended up coming in 2nd in D15. There is a tie for 3rd in D16 between Wolfe City and Blue Ridge. A late win/loss changed up their standings. D16 will have to have a playoff game this evening to determine who is going on. When more is known, Coach Cady will get the word out. Playoff Bracket

In memory of:
Rufus Loyd Davidson, 1927 – 2010

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