The Knights scored one run in each of the two innings, and starting pitcher David Rivera limited the Greyhounds to two singles and two scoreless innings.
But things changed quickly, and in a hurry.
Pope rallied for 12 unanswered runs — capped by Brett Lyle’s two-out, two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the fifth — and bullied its way to a 12-2 run-rule victory to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since winning the Class AAAA title in 2009.
Lyle batted 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Wes Smith was 2-for-3 with three RBIs, while Jacob Culbertson batted 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Stephen Skruck was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and scored a run.
Region 7AAAAA champion Pope (24-10) will host Region 4AAAAA’s Starr’s Mill (28-4) in a semifinal-round series beginning Monday.
“The first time through the batting order, their lefty (Rivera) was giving us fits,” Pope coach Jeff Rowland said. “But he got up in the pitch count and we finally started to get some key hits off him, and it went from there.”
Evans scored its first two runs with two outs on the board. Matt Anderson drew a two-out walk in the first inning and scored on RaeKwon Bennett’s single. Brice Harrison singled in the second and touched home on Garrett Wilkinson’s two-out double for the Knights’ 2-0 advantage.
The damage could have been worse for Pope.
Colin Dominy led off the second with a double, and Harrison’s single through the left side pushed runners to first and third with no outs. Kelvin McCladdie’s failed sacrifice bunt resulted in a double play with Dominy thrown out at home, and Spencer Murray struck out for the final out of the inning, leaving Wilkinson stranded on the basepaths.
“Our offense and defense found a way to get it done,” Rowland said. “They scratched and clawed and fought on the mound, in the field and at the plate. Everybody chipped in.”
Rivera, who allowed three earned runs off five hits and struck out five in 2 1/3 innings, began to lose his touch in the third. He gave up a leadoff double to Patrick Wiseman, walked Lowe and gave up back-to-back one-out singles to Johnny Flading and Smith.
Rivera’s wild pitch allowed Wiseman to score, and Smith’s single also produced a run, knotting the contest at 2-all.
Culbertson’s two-out single off reliever Tyler Roberts plated Flading for a 3-2 Pope advantage, but that was just the beginning of Evans’ woes.
Ten batters came to the plate in the fourth as the Greyhounds scored five runs off four hits and three errors to stake an 8-2 margin.
After Skruck’s double plated Mason Shiflett and Wiseman, Smith’s sacrifice fly scored courtesy runner Harrison Siegal, who was in for Lowe, and Skruck came home during Lyle’s at-bat when he reached on an error. Culberton’s RBI single scored Lyle for the final run of the frame.
Pope continued its assault with a four-run fifth. Lowe reached on a one-out error, and Skruck walked in the next at-bat. Siegal, who scored three times in Lowe’s place, and Skruck scored on Smith’s two-out single through the middle for a 10-2 margin.
Lyle ended the game with a two-run homer that cleared the fence a few feet from the left-field foul pole, plating courtesy runner Logan Taylor.
“We definitely got the momentum going,” Rowland said. “We put pressure behind each ball thrown, and when you put it in play, you make things happen.”
Lowe earned the win for Pope after allowing two earned runs on six hits while striking out two in five innings.
“We knew we’d have to score seven or eight runs to win,” Evans coach Ricky Beale said. “We made mistakes and they hurt us with them. You can’t give a good team those kind of opportunities.”