WOODROW — As they say, better late than never.
Everything about Game 1 of Sweetwater’s area playoff against Pampa wound up being way behind schedule on Friday, and that isn’t just a reference to the fact that it began almost an hour-and-a-half later than planned — and at a different location — due to inclement weather at Lubbock Christian Univ-ersity that forced both teams to scramble for another field to play on.
After the game finally got underway just before 9 p.m. at Lubbock Cooper High School, Sweetwater waited — and waited some more — for its offense to arrive as the Mustangs were scoreless the first seven innings.
But Pampa was having the same problem, thanks to the strong pitching of James Clift, who was able to shut down the Harvesters just as effectively during that time as his counterpart, Pampa’s Brody Gaines.
Once the game reached extra innings, Sweetwater found some magic.
Dylan Bennett drew a leadoff walk in the eighth. Then, on Stephen May’s sacrifice bunt, Bennett kept running and reached third base safely.
Greg Aiken, whose 3-for-4 night at the plate accounted for all of Sweetwater’s hits against Pampa on Friday, then slapped a single to left field to score Bennett. That was all the runs needed for Clift, who after issuing a one-out walk in the bottom of the inning retired the last two Pampa hitters to pre-serve a 1-0 victory — giving Sweetwater (18-14) a 1-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-3 series that was expected to return to Lubbock Christian University’s Hays Field for the conclusion starting at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Pampa also finished with just three hits, all singles. Clift (8-2), who was also the winning pitcher in Game 1 against Fabens a week earlier, struck out seven and walked two.
It looked at the start of the game as if Sweetwater would jump out to a quick lead in the first inning.
May reached on a walk, then moved to third after a single by Aiken singled and an error by Pampa’s right fielder that allowed Aiken to reach second. Sean Morrow struck out, but a passed ball allowed him to reach and load the bases with one out.
But that very promising start against Gaines was unable to produce a run as May was thrown out trying to score after Kaleb Hoover reached on a fielder’s choice, and Clift then flied out to end the inning.
Pampa had two hits off Clift in its half of the first to put runners at first and second with one out, but he struck out the next two batters to erase that threat.
Pampa’s best chance to score against Sweetwater came when Ethan Hunt led off the seventh by reaching second base on an infield error and moving to third on a sacrifice bunt with one out. But Clift struck out Gaines to keep the potential winning run at third, and retired Taylor Woods on a comebacker to the mound to send the game into extra innings. Gaines also pitched an eight-inning complete game for the Harvesters.