"Those first couple of innings felt like a dream. It didn't even feel like I was playing," Rider senior Gage Green said Wednesday about last year's state semifinal against Brenham. "You could tell that Brenham had been there before, but I really think (this year) will be a whole different experience for us."
Green's prediction came true, as #7 Rider came out calm and came out strong against #1 Brenham in Thursday's Class 4A state semifinal rematch. Senior pitcher Cameron Allen struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced, while senior second baseman Christien Sager drove in Jordan McQuerry in the bottom of the first to give Rider the early lead.
The Raiders carried that momentum to a 3-1 win, advancing to the school's first ever state championship game.
"It's unbelievable, to come back and play the same team we did last year but come out on top this time feels great," Allen said.
Allen finished with 12 strikeouts, only allowing one run on a three-hit, complete-game performance.
Hanging on to a 1-0 lead, Rider received an additional run on a crazy at bat from Blake Brom.
First, the junior right fielder fouled a ball off his left foot, causing enough pain to force head coach Scot Green to come out to the plate.
"When that happened, I told him I wasn't going to just let him walk out, unless he could show me he could jump up and down on it and smile when he did it. He kind of gave me a half-fake smile," Green said. "That just shows you (how tough he is), to just take that bat and did what he did with it, it gave us a huge boost, gave us a two-run lead. That was the big play of the game."
Brom says he didn't even know that the ball made over the left-field wall, adding that he didn't get excited until he saw the umpire put his hand in the air.
Rider added one more run off a Brenham error to give Allen a three-run cushion, needing six outs to send Rider to the title game. Allen struck out Jesse Baker to end the top of the sixth.
The senior ran into trouble in the top of the seventh, putting the first two on and eventually allowing a run. After a visit from Green, Allen settled down and then froze Zack Jacobs in the box to end it.
"Cam felt it. You always like it when he starts getting on a roll and feels like he can control every pitch in and out," Green said. "There's nothing better than that."
Allen says he focused on hitting spots, throwing his curveball for strikes and forcing the Cubs to hit into outs. The win improves his record to 13-2 for the season, as Rider improves to 38-7 overall.
The Raiders return to Dell Diamond at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow to battle #4 Corpus Christi Calallen, who beat #8 Mesquite Poteet 6-5 in 10 innings late Thursday night, for the Class 4A State Championship.