Ridge Point’s Groen stars in the clutch
The battle between pitcher and batter is, by nature, a one-sided affair. Only the pitcher knows what pitch will be thrown, when and how. It’s up to the batter to decode it.
That a batter connecting for a hit three out of 10 times is considered a success is a clear indictment of a pitcher’s control. As closely contested games play into late innings, the intensity of circumstances only amplifies.
And that’s when Ridge Point junior Carter Groen shines.
Groen was big-time in the Panthers’ Class 6A regional quarterfinal sweep of No. 1 state-ranked Tompkins last weekend. It was his walk-off RBI single that scored the winning run in Game 1, stamping an incredible 2-1 comeback win. Almost 24 hours later, Groen’s two-run double in the sixth inning propelled the Panthers’ lead to 9-2. Those two runs proved decisive in what turned out a 9-7 win.
In Ridge Point’s Game 1 2-1 bi-district playoff against Westside, Groen’s sacrifice RBI in the eighth inning walked off yet another win.
All three of those hits came with two outs.
“Stepping into the box in those situations is something I enjoy,” Groen said. “I feel like putting extra pressure on yourself just because of the situation will only distract you from taking care of the job at hand. The mound is still sixty feet away. First base is still 90. So, I just focus on staying loose, and I was fortunate enough to make something happen.”
The moment tends to draw in those who crave it. Fortune or not, Groen was ready. The young man is as impressive of a talent physically, standing 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, as he is in make-up. He has a relentless competitive nature honed on football and baseball fields, where he learned to sacrifice for the team.
“You’ve just got to be a dog. Who wants it more?” Groen said. “It’s a battle and a war every time you step into the box, and I want to win. The rest of our guys do as well. It’s whatever it takes. Whether it’s me or anyone else in the lineup, I’m sure everybody wants it just the same. I just happened to be the guy to get it done.”
Ridge Point junior Carter Groen.Courtesy of Perfect Game
In Game 1 versus Tompkins, Ridge Point trailed 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning at home. Then Travis Vlasek singled on a line drive to center. JJ Kennett followed with a double to right that scored Vlasek and tied the game.
That’s when Groen stepped up.
Tompkins starter Trevor Esparza started him off with a slider away, as was the case in Groen’s previous three at-bats. Esparza left a third slider over the plate and Groen was able to get the barrel of the bat on it, driving it to left field.
“Especially against a great program and great squad like Tompkins has, we knew there were going to be some times where we’d be faced with those situations,” Groen said. “I was ready, to say the least. I wanted to be that guy.”
Up 3-2 on the Falcons in Game 2 going into the top of the sixth inning, Ridge Point scored six runs on three hits after inducing three straight walks against Michael De Battista to lead off the frame.
Parker Martin had an RBI groundout. Justin Vossos delivered a two-run double. Vlasek, again, came up big with an RBI single.
“Travis really put it all together that series,” Groen said.
Tompkins went to its third pitcher of the game in reliever Ty Dagley with Groen up and a 7-2 deficit. Groen continued the ambush, splashing a two-run double to left to cap off the damage, keeping his hands back on the bat and reading the spin out of Dagley’s hand.
Groen said no lead is too big in the playoffs. There is no time to relax.
“Looking back, when we extended the lead in the sixth, how big Carter Groen was to get those eighth and ninth runs,” Ridge Point coach Clint Welch said. “Thankfully, he did.”
Tompkins produced a furious attempt at a rally in the seventh, scoring five runs and placing two runners in scoring position before Owen Farris snared a liner from Cash Russell to end the threat and award Ridge Point a shocking sweep of a team ranked No. 6 nationally.
“I was so nervous,” Groen said. “I was in left field … going back to what happened the night before, the game’s never over. There was no relaxing. Fortunately, we had a pretty big cushion which ultimately won us the game.”
Ridge Point junior Carter Groen at the plate.Courtesy of Carter Groen
The Panthers (31-4) are in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2019. That was also the year they made it to the state final.
Groen said there is no reason to think this team can’t make it to Round Rock as well.
“Every single guy on our roster plays for the name on our chest and not the number on our back,” he said. “Each of us has a role and each of us will do anything for the next guy, and I think that’s what makes our team so special. We got a really good taste of what playoff baseball is going to be like and we’re comfortable. We’re ready to go.”