SHAWNEE — After Latta had surrendered the lead in the top of the seventh inning, the Panthers needed someone to be a hero. Senior Zac Byrd answered the challenge.
Byrd poked a single to right field to drive in the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to propel the sixth-ranked Panthers to a crazy 6-5 win over No. 5 Mangum Thursday night in the first round of the Class 2A State Tournament.
Latta — making its 37th state tournament appearance — improved to 20-9 heading into a Friday afternoon semifinal clash with powerhouse Silo. The top-ranked Rebels improved to 32-0 with a 7-1 win over No. 15 Hartshorne in an earlier first-round game.
In other 2A first-round games, No. 1 Dale shut out No. 7 Christian Heritage 11-0 and No. 2 Oktaha dumped No. 9 Wellston 9-1.
Latta had just blown a one-run lead before Byrd saved the day.
“We deserved to win, and we deserved to lose,” veteran Latta head coach Eddie Collins said. “But any win up here is a big win. I take my hat off to my kids. They were pretty resilient after giving up the lead in the top of the seventh.”
The Panthers led Mangum 4-3 heading into the top of the seventh before the Tigers staged a rally in the seesaw affair.
LHS reliever Rylan Reed looked to close out the game and get a save, and things started off well when he struck out the first batter he faced. Henry Lopez then lofted a ball into right field toward LHS defender Dawson Dansby, and it got caught up in the wind blowing that direction. Dansby circled around, and it appeared to many onlookers at Ed Skelton Field that he made a circus catch.
However, he dropped the ball and Lopez was safe at first.
Shon-Claude Booth then ripped a double to the gap in left-center field, and Lopez scored all the way from first to tie the score at 4-4. Jet McAlexander then hit an RBI single to right field that put Mangum on top 5-4.
That set the stage for a remarkable two-out LHS rally in the bottom of the seventh.
Tucker Abney started the comeback with a base hit to left field, and Creed Humphrey drew a walk. Both runners advanced on a passed ball ,and Abney trotted home on a wild pitch to knot the score at 5-5.
Byrd then hit drove a 2-0 pitch from Booth — who started the inning in relief for Mangum — to right field to win it for Latta.
“My little eight-hole does a good job. He lays off two tough pitches and gets a good pitch to hit and doesn’t try to do too much with it and hits it right where he needed to,” Collins said.
Latta senior Randis Gray pitched six strong innings. His lone blemish came in the top of the fourth inning. With the Panthers leading 2-0, a walk and an LHS error set up a three-run homer by Brooks Cross, who got the ball up into the strong breeze that was blowing out to right field. That round-tripper gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
Even though the stiff wind aided Lopez, Collins was still impressed.
“It was a pretty good poke here, especially with it being such a cold night,” he said.
Gray struck out six, walked two, gave up only two earned runs and allowed just five hits in six innings in his final pitching performance for Latta.
The Panthers got the run back in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to another two-out rally.
Cam Estep and Reed started things off with back-to-back base hits. Estep later scored on a Mangum error to tie the game at 4-4.
Latta scored again in the bottom of the sixth. Humphrey walked before Byrd and Estep both struck out trying to execute a bunt to move the runner to second. However, Reed and Jeron Johnston kept the inning alive with back-to-back hits that produced the run and put the Panthers ahead 4-3.
That could have been a much bigger inning for Latta.
“We’re young, and we make some mistakes. You misplay a fly ball after you score a run, and you don’t get two bunts down from guys that have been good all year long. But up here, everything is magnified and everything’s dramatic,” Collins said.
MHS starter Colton Laughlin, who pitched a perfect game in Mangum’s 12-0 regional championship win over No. 12 Amber-Pocasset, struck out seven, walked one, surrendered three earned runs and allowed nine hits in six innings but didn’t factor in the decision.
Abney finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored. He was robbed of a third hit on a hot shot back up the middle that glanced off the pitcher’s mound and slowed down just enough for MHS shortstop McAlexander to make a play on it.
Byrd also had two hits for Latta, which is looking for its first state championship since 2005.
By The Numbers
CLASS 2A STATE
Latta 6, Mangum 5
MANGUM 000 300 2 — 5 6 2
LATTA 011 101 2 — 6 9 2
Colten Laughlin, Jet McAlexander (7) and Shon-Claude Booth. Randis Gray, Rylan Reed (7) and Jeron Johnston. WP-Reed. LP-McAlexander. HR-Brooks Cross (M). 2B-Booth (M); Gray (L). HL-Cross 3-3, 3 RBIs (M); Gray 2-4, Tucker Abney 2-4, 2 RS, Humphrey 2 RS, 2 BB, Zac Byrd 2-4, RBI (L).