ABILENE — Nothing the New Home baseball team faced so far this season could compare to the challenges they endured against Anson in a Region I-2A semifinal series.
On Friday, the Leopards were pushed to a five-run deficit before bouncing back for the victory. About 22 hours later, with three of their starters going through graduation in between, New Home suffered its first loss in nearly three months with Anson taking the 4-2 win to even the series.
And with 30 minutes between their first big setback in quite some time, and a do-or-die game three headed their way, it was fair to wonder how the Leopards would survive.
And if the six hours spent in the 100-plus temperatures at Crutcher Scott Field at Abilene Christian University wasn't enough of an indication, the 13-12 New Home victory should provide the answer.
By the skin of their teeth.
"We knew from day one that we had a shot to run into Anson and if we run into Anson then it's going to be a battle," New Home head coach Brady Webb said. "I'm glad we ended up on top."
Prior to the three-game Region I-2A semifinal with Anson, Webb said New Home's toughest task of the season was a single non-district game against Shallowater. He felt the Leopards were good in that contest, though they still wound up with a loss.
That was also months ago. Anson was a different animal.
The Tigers and their fans poked and prodded the Leopards every chance they got. When Anson took Saturday's second game by a 4-2 margin, it put the Leopards into unchartered territory.
That's where having players like Ryan Bundy, Zach Blizel and Alex Vitolas on the team helps out. The three were freshmen the last time New Home advanced to the state tournament, when the Leopards were still at the 1A classification. Bundy has actually been around the baseball program much longer than four years thanks to tagging along with his older brother.
Once Ryan's brother graduated, the younger Bundy stepped into the starting lineup and hasn't left. He still remembers the fun the team had when they made it to Austin in 2019, something he desperately wants to duplicate one last time before calling it a high-school career.
To do that, the Leopards needed to scratch and claw their way to a victory in the third game. And they did it with the help of an unlikely source.
Sophomore Owen Morris has had very little time on the varsity team for New Home. He's bounced between traveling with the varsity and playing for the JV — while also being a region-champion golfer on the side.
In the middle of the third game with Anson, New Home had exhausted all of its available arms. Pitch count rules took effect and pure exhaustion caused most balls to sail around the plate — which kept Bundy, New Home's catcher, quite busy and Anson's base runners in position to score.
Eventually, Webb looked at his remaining available arms and made a choice.
"We got to the point where we were like, hey, we just need strikes," Webb said. "They may hit it because they're a good hitting team, but we need to give them a chance — so who's going to give us a chance and throw strikes. Big O throws strikes."
Morris wasn't perfect, but he didn't need to be.
The Leopards had built enough of a cushion that giving up a couple of runs in the sixth wasn't detrimental. Then Morris went back to the mound in the seventh and became a Leopard legend.
He struck out the first batter, then plunked the next one. Before he knew it, the tying run was at second base with one out. Luckily, Morris got the next batter to fly out to Ashton Lucio — who hit a two-run home run in the game — in right field.
Then came the final batter.
Bundy had spent hours in the hot catcher's gear, his emotions ebbing and flowing throughout the day. Dylyn Pyle was at the plate with a chance to tie to the game.
Morris, though, got Pyle to popup into foul territory.
It was a similar play Bundy had trouble with earlier in the day. With the game on the line, the senior catcher brought in the final out, squeezed it hard and was ready to be done with the Tigers.
"It took patience, hard work, dedication. ... that's really what it came down to, who wanted it more at the end," Bundy said. "Everybody was so dog tired and we just came out with it."
No matter how the Leopards did it, with style, grace or just a little luck, they got it done, and Bundy, happy as he was to move to the region championship game, was ready for a nap.
REGION I-2A SEMIFINAL BASEBALL
Game 2: Anson 4, New Home 2
New Home 100 001 0 — 2 6 1
Anson 000 031 x — 4 8 0
Ashton Lucio. Nick Miller. W — Miller. L — Lucio.
Game 3: New Home 13, Anson 12
New Home 071 230 0 — 13 12 0
Anson 031 512 0 — 12 9 2
Ryder Watkins, Logan Addison (2), Mason Turnbow (4) and Owen Morris (6). Blake Benson, Riley Pippen (3), Mason Hagler (5) and Trevor Miller (6). W — Ryder Watkins. L — Blake Benson. S — Owen Morris. 2B — Anson, Trevor Miller. HR — New Home, Ashton Lucio. Records: New Home 31-3, Anson 26-3-1. Note: New Home wins series 2-1.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: New Home escapes 3-game series with Anson to advance to region finals