Cove completes sweep of Killeen to force two-way tie for second

By TJ Maxwell
Cove Leader-Press

The Copperas Cove Bulldawgs put their fate in their own hands after sweeping the Killeen Kangaroos with a 6-3 win at home on Friday to force a two-way tie with the Belton Tigers at 8-4 with just the two-game series between the Bulldawgs and Tigers remaining in the regular season.
“We knew we had to do what we were supposed to do,” said Copperas Cove head baseball coach Dusty Brittain. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we scored in every inning but one. The two runs in the bottom of the sixth were huge. It gave us some breathing room going into that last inning. I’m proud of our kids. It’s not always going to be pretty, but you have to do what you’re supposed to do.”
While the Bulldawgs were holding on to their 6-3 win at Bulldawg Field, the Ellison Eagles gave some assistance to their cross-town rivals with a 7-1 win over the Tigers to force the tie.
A stellar performance on the mound for the Bulldawgs by senior Jaylen Smith aided in the win. The lefty allowed just three runs (two earned) on three hits while striking out 16 and walked four.
“It feels great to come out here and dominate like I did today,” said Smith. “The last two weeks have been tough with the rain cancellations. Having to come out, then coming back out and getting rained out again the same night then getting rained out again.
“This week, I actually got time to pitch on Friday and I pitched my heart.” 
Smith allowed two early free bases that resulted in runs before clamping down over the next five innings of work. He reached his pitch count of 110 pitches and had to leave with one out remaining and reliever Josh Ropple closed the door.
“I was off-balance coming off the mound,” Smith said about his early struggles. “My mechanics were kind of messed up, so I went in the bullpen to throw a couple balls. I regrouped and started throwing strikes.”
Ropple also showed up big at the plate for the Dawgs with a 3 for 4 night with a run while junior Colby Jost finished 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI to lead the Cove bats.
A lead-off walk by Tavion Grant resulted in the first Killeen score when left fielder Julien Jasmin roped a double to centerfield.
Smith’s third strikeout of the game ended the threat.
Cove returned the favor with a run in the bottom half of the inning. Ropple connected on a one-out single to right field before advancing around the base paths on passed balls and wild pitches for the 1-1 tie.
Another free base resulted in the Roos second score in the top half of the second inning.  Killeen’s Bo Buckley drew a two-out walk before stealing second and third and advancing home on an error.
The Dawgs again answered in the bottom half of the inning for a 2-all tie. A lead-off double by Nick Izquierdo put a runner on for Smith, who aided his pitching with his own run support with an RBI single to center field.
The Dawgs looked like they may give up more runs in the top of the third when Grant connected with a lead-off single but, the fifth and sixth strikeout by Smith and a pop out, ended the Killeen threat.
The Dawgs took the lead for good in the bottom of the third.
A lead-off double by senior Cameron Johnson put a runner on for Jost who also doubled for the go-ahead run.
Smith pushed his strikeout total to 11 in the top of the fifth inning with four strikeouts in the inning.
A walk by Grant put one runner on for Cove before a dropped third strike allowed Brandon Fox to reach to put runners on the corners. Smith then fanned the next three batters to get out of danger.
The Dawgs added another insurance run in the bottom of the fifth when the lead-off batter connected with a base hit for the third-consecutive inning. A single by Jost put a runner on to lead off the inning before another single by Izquierdo and a sacrifice bunt by senior Justin Velesky moved Jost to third. An RBI ground out to shortstop by Jacob Wagner then scored Jost for the 4-2 Cove lead.
Another free base allowed the Roos to pull within a run in the top of the sixth inning. A lead-off walk by Jasmin resulted in the run after a single by Jackson Taylor moved Jasmin to third and another dropped third strike allowed Jasmin to score before the 14th strikeout by Smith ended the threat.
The Dawgs then padded their lead in the bottom half of the inning with a pair of runs by Ropple and Johnson. 
Ropple hit a one-out single and Johnson reached on an error to put the runners on before a groundout by senior Tyler Ingram scored Ropple and a wild pitch scored Johnson.
Smith then collected his 15th and 16th K before relinquishing duties to Ropple for the save.
Brittain was impressed with the Smith’s poise.
“He started off walking that first batter and it felt like the same old chapter but I tried to preach to him to have fun,” said Brittain. “I said, ‘if this is your last one here, have fun with it.’ 
“When he settled in and started having fun, he was throwing as good as I’ve seen him throw in four years. I’m proud of the kid. He goes out there and competes. He wants to do well, and I’m pleased with his effort. 16 Ks is huge.”
Ropple allowed one hit and had one K in the save.
Izquierdo (2 for 4, R), Smith (1 for 3, RBI), Wagner (1 for 3, RBI), Johnson (1 for 3, 2R, BB), and Michael Goudeau (1 for 3, BB) closed out the 11 hits for Cove on the night.
Grant (2 for 2, R, 2BB), Jasmin (1 for 2, R, RBI, BB) and Taylor (1 for 3) accounted for Killeen’s four hits. 
Alnaldo Lanzo suffered the loss for the Roos. He allowed five runs (three earned) on 11 hits while striking out one and walking two in 5 1/3 innings.
The Dawgs begin their two-game series with the Belton Tigers tonight at Bulldawg Field with the senior righty Johnson taking the mound. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
“Belton is a quality team,” said Brittain. “They are not going to make any mistakes. They are solid at the plate, so we have to be on top of our game. We’ve got to play the way we are capable of playing. We feel this is like a playoff series. This is a playoff team and we kind of get a head start on people. We’re excited about it and the kids are excited.”
Smith would also love to best their arch nemesis Belton who knocked them out of the playoff running last year in a play-in game to take that second seed into the playoffs.
“It would feel great,” he said. After we lost those two games to Midway, we’ve been chasing second all season and counting down. This last week, we just have to come out and ball and get a win, then go get a win at their place.”
He has faith in his pitching counterpart to get the first step accomplished.
“Cam is an amazing pitcher,” said Smith. “He has great velocity and he’s able to spot up. He should be able to come out here and dominate.” 

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