AUSTIN — Pitching changes, especially early ones, often spell disaster for teams at the state baseball tournament.
Pleasant Grove replaced its starter just 22 pitches into the Class 4A championship game, and reliever Coe Blain settled the ship for the Hawks.
Blain pitched 6 1-3 innings of 1-hit relief and was named the state final Most Valuable Player after PG edged Rusk, 2-1, Thursday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
He came into the game with runners at the corners, two outs and a 3-1 count to one of Rusk's best players. Two pitches later, Blain and the Hawks were headed to the dugout after the first of his four strikeouts.
"My mindset was just throw strikes, get outs and let the defense play," Blain said about his performance. "They backed me up, turning three double plays. It was a similar situation was last week against Liberty-Eylau (in Game 2) when I came in in the second inning and went the rest of the way."
The senior right-hander improved to 10-1 on the season, threw 64 pitches, walked three, hit one and allowed one unearned run.
"I can't say enough about Coe Blain," Pleasant Grove head coach Riley Fincher said. "Coming in in that situation, facing their five-hole hitter and striking him out to get us out of the first-inning jam, and then him pitching 6 and 1-3 of 1-hit ball — just an infield single — working out of jams. It was just an outstanding job he did."
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Blain retired the side in order in the second inning, allowed a infield single and unearned run in the third, and walked the first batter of the fourth inning. That Eagle baserunner was removed from the bases on a 6-4-3 double play started by shortstop JM Long and Brenton Clark making the turn at second.
Like in the second frame, Blain needed just seven pitches to get out of the fifth inning. A leadoff walk in the sixth was erased by another double play, this one started — and ended — by first baseman Tucker Anderson with Long making the turn at second.
Blain's only inning he struggled in was in the seventh, hitting the first batter he faced and walking another after one out. The next batter lined out to Anderson at first, and Anderson dove to the bag at first before the runner could get back to tag up for the third double play turned by the Hawks.
"I couldn't have asked for any better way to finish my career as a Hawk," Blain said. "It was great."