After stunning the No. 1 ranked Longview Spring Hill Panthers in an explosive seventh inning to claim Game Two of the Region III semifinal playoff series 6-5, it was beginning to look like the No. 3 ranked Bridge City Cardinals were headed to the finals– and from there the Class 3A state baseball championship tournament was on the horizon. But it wasn’t to be… that’s baseball.

On this hot Saturday afternoon in Hudson, Texas the Panthers (29-3-1) prevailed in Game Three becoming the series winner ending an outstanding season for first year head baseball coach Chad Landry and the Dist 21-3A champion Bridge City Cardinals (26-7-1).

On Thursday the Cardinals battled through 10 gruelling innings against the Panthers to eventually fall 8-7  in Game One.  The Cardinals showed up Saturday ready for Game Two.

“If we can win this game we got a good chance,” said Landry before the second round at Lufkin Hudson High School.  “Make a way. Find a way,”

Landry told the Cardinals before the playoff series resumed.

They found a way and then some. Behind 5-3 late in Game Two, Bridge City mounted a super-rally in their final time at bat to score three runs from a junior pitcher Caleb Kellogg swat to center that rocked the house. Cardinals won it 6-5.

The Cardinals grabbed a quick lead in the bottom of the second inning in Game Two. Senior Anthony Cessac and designated hitter Dylan Mulhollan were walked by Panther senior pitcher Garrett Methvin. Cessac reached third on an en error. Senior catcher Grant Encalade also walked loading the bases. Junior infielder Joseph Robertson smacked a two run RBI double. Cardinal junior pitcher Matt Hicks nailed a one run double to left field scoring Robertson for the early 3-0 lead.

Kellogg shut down the first six Panther batters. The Panthers didn’t manage a score until Methvin homered in the top of the fourth. He struck again in the top of the fifth with a 2 RBI double that tied the ball game 3-3.

The Panthers took a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning . Methvin had kept the Cardinals scoreless through three straight. Bridge City pitcher Caleb Kellogg went 6 2/3 innings against the hard hitting Panthers that tacked on another score in the top of the seventh to go ahead 5-3. Kellogg was relieved by left hander Forest Zoch to finish the frame.

In Bridge City’s last time at bat the Cardinals produced a three run assault. Matt Hicks drew a walk against Methvin and Panther head coach Griff Mauldin pulled him and brought in pitcher Dylan Brown. Brown walked junior outfielder Luke Rhodes and senior third baseman Blake Hubbard reached first on a bunt loading the bases. Cardinal mojo was working when Kellogg ripped a Panther pitch to center for a three run RBI double that captured a sudden 6-5 victory amidst pandemonium to force Game Three.

Zoch via Kellogg got the win on the hill against the much touted Methvin.

“We are very proud of our guys effort and intensity this year.  We never got too emotionally high or too low,” Landry said,  “That is something that isn’t necessarily coached, it something that each guy has within them.  It paid huge dividends to know that our guys were never in doubt of their success.”

But the Cardinals couldn’t penetrate the Longview Spring Hill defense and Panther bats retired three Cardinal pitchers for a 12-6 Game Three victory. The Panthers advance to the Region III final against Carthage this week.

The Panthers scored 8 runs in the top of the third inning. Cardinal pitcher Daniel Wallace replaced Blake Snyder on the mound. Sophomore left hander Forest Zoch would replace Wallace before the Cardinals could retire the side.

In the bottom of the fourth inning Hubbard singled to left center and was advanced to second base on a base hit by Mulhollan. Snyder walked loading the bases. Hubbard dashed home on a Panther error for the Cardinals first score. The Cardinals scored three more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, Kellogg doubled. A base hit by Cessac moved Kellogg to third. Cardinal senior Clay Edwards doubled to score Kellogg. Cessac came home on a passed ball and senior infielder Michael Schrieber singled to score Edwards.

The Panthers posted four more runs against the Cardinals in the top of the seventh inning for a 12-4 lead. Cessac threw his last pitch as a Cardinal when he was brought in to relieve Zoch ending the inning.

The Cardinals went down swinging scoring two more runs their last time at bat. Hicks singled and Cardinal senior outfielder Jared Raggio doubled. A sacrifice grounder by Hubbard scored Hicks and moved Raggio to third. Kellogg picked up an RBI single when he scored Raggio.

After the season ending loss Coach Landry gathered the Cardinals in the outfield. “I told them that I was proud of them,” Landry said, “They overcame some early losses and never quit.” Landry thanked the departing seniors who “accomplished many great things in their four years with the team.”

The Cardinals who will be returning a strong group of playoff veterans next season will also be saying good bye to 10 seniors and several key players. Blake Hubbard, Eric Matthews and Blake Snyder, along with Anthony Cessac and center fielder Dustin Breaux have been Cardinal mainstays. Also departing will be catcher Grant Encalade, pitcher Daniel Wallace, outfielders Jared Raggio, Clay Edwards and infielder Michael Schrieber.

“It is difficult for a senior class to adapt to new a coach, and I appreciated everything they have done, making the transition a lot easier,” Landry said. “All of our seniors played a significant role in our success this season.”

Hubbard has one more high school baseball game remaining. A big one. Hubbard was chosen to play in the The Texas Baseball Coaches Baseball Association’s 2009 All-Star Game. He will play with the Class 1-3A All-Star Game at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, June 20.

“We haven’t really had much thought about next season,” Landry said, “We do know that everyone in the program must be on the same page, from the sophomore team all the way up to the varsity level.”

Bridge City will be returning one of the state’s premier pitchers, junior Matt Hicks and his cohort infielder Joe Robertson. Cardinal slugger left fielder Luke Rhodes and the now playoff famous pitcher Caleb Kellogg will be back on board. Designated hitter Dylan Mulhollan, lefty pitcher Forest Zoch, freshman catcher Matt Menard and freshman outfielder Cameron Dishon are also playoff tested.

“This year was an adjustment with new terminology, and a focus on the smaller things,” Landry said,”Now that everyone has experienced the way I want things to go, it will make the transition to my coaching style a lot easier.”

Landry commended Bridge City Cardinal fans for their support in the 2009 season. “A huge thank you goes out to our very supportive fans,” Landry said, “They travel well, and are loud; creating an impressive atmosphere.  All the coaches from Cuero, Cameron Yoe, and Spring Hill were very impressed by them.”

See the upcoming editions of The Record newspapers for related article, photos and recap of the 2009 Region III semifinal playoff series.