The Van Alstyne Panthers jumped out to an early lead and, behind Clayton Maloy’s four-hit pitching, closed the book on Commerce’s historic season with a 6-1 win Saturday afternoon.

The win for the 22-5 state-ranked Panthers, coupled with their 4-0 win Wednesday over Commerce, sends them into the regional finals against either Lindale or Gladewater. Commerce, the District 11-3A champion, ends its season at 18-10.

“Maloy did a great job out there,” said Commerce head coach Jody Simmons. “He had good control and we had a hard time all day trying to get our bat on the ball.”

Maloy struck out 10 and walked one in the seventh inning to pick up the win.

The Panthers took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first when second baseman Matt Richey scored from third on designated hitter Cole Whitaker’s fielder’s choice. First baseman Chuck Hardwick followed with a two-run single off Commerce starter Jonathan Cox.

“We made a few mistakes early in the first inning,” Simmons said. “You can’t let a good team like Van Alstyne get ahead and try to come from behind.”

Cox would settle down over the next four innings, allowing one run on two hits. The junior righthander finished striking out two, walking four with two earned runs before being pulled in the sixth inning.

“Jonathan did a great job,” Simmons said. “He is a great competitor. He wants everybody to take the game as seriously as he does.”

Commerce narrowed the gap in the second inning as designated hitter K.J. Nelson opened with a single to left field. He moved to second on Zack Boles’ sacrifice bunt and scored on Van Alstyne shortstop Kyle Mounger’s errant throw to first on a Eli Keith grounder.

The Tigers were unable to advance a runner past second for the remainder of the game.

Van Alstyne put the game out of reach in the sixth inning as Ritchey’s single off Boles, who came in to relief Cox, scored Adam Judd and Dustin O’Brien, who reached base on a walk and infield hit, respectively.

Simmons praised his team for reaching the regional semifinals for the first time in school history. He credited seniors Raymond Santibanez, Travis Burnett and Boles for providing needed leadership.

“They gave great leadership all year long,” the coach added. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of players. And since we are only losing three, we’ve got a great nucleus for next year. We’ll be back.”

Class 3A regional baseball quarterfinals

Commerce 010 000 0 —1 4 2

Van Alstyne 300 012 x —6 5 1

WP: Clayton Maloy, 4 hits, 1 run, 1 ER, 1BB, 10 Ks.

LP: Jonathan Cox, 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 Ks in 5 IP; relieved by Zack Boles, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 Ks in 1 IP

Leading hitters

VA: Matt Richey, 2-2, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Chuck Hardwiick, 1-3, 1 RBI; Dillon Harp, 1-3; Dustin O’Brien, 1-3, 1 run

C: K.J. Nelson, 2-3, 1 run; Bob Draughn, 1-3; Jonathan Cox 1-3.

Records: Van Alstyne, 22-5; Commerce 18-10.

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