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'We learned from it': Abbott makes return trip count, holds off Fayetteville for Texas (UIL) 1A baseball title

Riley Sustala's 'unbelievable' relief outing helps preserve Panthers' 6-5 win

By Buck Ringgold | Photos by Andrew McCulloch

ROUND ROCK, TexasAbbott appeared to be well on its way to a decisive win in the Class 1A championship game.

Fayetteville, though, made the Panthers sweat things out until literally the very last pitch. It was on that last pitch, however, when Abbott was able to finally dogpile one another.

Abbott relief pitcher Riley Sustala ended the game by getting a strikeout as Fayetteville stranded the potential tying and game-winning runs on base as the Panthers prevailed, 6-5, Thursday morning at the Dell Diamond.

“To close it, it was awesome; that’s what I’m here for, was to close it,” said Sustala, who started the game playing shortstop and is also the team’s leadoff hitter. “I did my job, and I was pretty pleased with it.”

Sustala entered the game on the mound in the bottom of the seventh, taking over for Abbott starter Preston Pustejovsky.

>>Photo Gallery: Abbott fends off Fayetteville, wins 1A Texas (UIL) Baseball State Championship

Fayetteville - which had trailed 5-0 in the third - scored two runs in the seventh and had runners on first and second. Ironically earlier that inning, a fielding error from Sustala helped give Fayetteville its big opportunity.

But Sustala quickly diffused the situation. He got Chance Konvicka to hit a fly ball to left fielder Max Stalker for the second out.

That brought up Lawson Fritsch, with the state title at stake. Sustala won that battle, getting Fritsch to swing and miss for strike three, and finally giving the Panthers (23-4) a reason to celebrate in winning their first title since 2017.

It also provided sweet redemption for the Panthers, who lost in last season’s 1A championship game.

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“Last year was like, ‘Whoa, we’re here, we did it (making it to the title game),’ Sustala said. “But we didn’t have that, like, we’re here to win it mentality, like we were going to come in here to destroy and win, and that’s what we had this year.”

Abbott’s football team also finished as state runner-up to Westbrook in the Class 1A Division I championship game last December at Arlington. So the Panthers were wanting to change the narrative of being good enough to make it to a state title game but not good enough to win it all.

“I’m just so proud of this group because they’ve been second a lot lately,” Abbott coach Kyle Crawford said. “We got down here last year and got our butts kicked, there’s no way around it. We learned from it, and moved on, and then we put ourselves at AT&T (Stadium in Arlington) for football.

“A lot leading up this was, ‘Well, you’ve been in a lot of big games, you’ve been in a lot of big stadiums,’ and that’s true, but we finished second, and the expectations are not second place in Abbott. So we wanted to come down here and use all those experiences at AT&T, the regional finals in basketball, the experience from here last year, and put all of that together and let it culminate in the state championship, I’m unbelievably proud of them.”

Abbott appeared to be well on its way toward getting that redemption after scoring two runs in the top of the first. The Panthers added three more runs in the third to extend their lead to 5-0.

It remained 5-0 until Fayetteville (20-7) finally broke through with three runs in the fifth.

“We got up 5-0 and no ounce of me thought it was going to be an easy ball game,” Crawford said. “We knew they were going to have a push. … They’ve got tough kids over there, too, so yeah, we knew it was going to be a dog fight.”

Up 5-3, Abbott got its last run in the top of the seventh, a one-out RBI single from Hogan Warren.

As it turned out, it ended up being a huge run due to Fayetteville’s near-rally in the last of the seventh.

“Fortunately for us, we had been in a lot of (tight games) in the playoff run,” Crawford said. “We’ve had to play some tight games, we’ve had to execute, and so I think that helped us a lot (Thursday).”

Pustejovsky was named the game’s MVP as he was the winning pitcher. He went 6 1/3 innings and gave up five runs - four earned - on eight hits. He walked one and struck out four.

“He really had the change-up working and he hit spots,” Crawford said. “We had a good plan. … It never got too big for him and they hit him a little bit, but he trusted his defense.

“Unbelievable performance in the state championship game from a guy that doesn’t have overpowering stuff.”

Both teams finished with eight hits apiece. Three Panthers had two-hit games in Karsyn Johnson, Will Kazda and Connor Sullins, each of whom went 2-for-4.

Sullins drove in two runs and scored another, Kazda had a double for Abbott’s lone extra-base hit and Johnson scored a run while driving in another.

Fayetteville’s Logan Fritsch and Keagan Supak each went 2-for-3. Supak doubled and scored a pair of runs, and Fritsch picked up a pair of RBIs.

At the end, though, it was Abbott which finally came out on top with a title after coming up agonizingly short in several sports.

“Everything, really (is special about this team),” Sustala said. "We’re all with each other all the time. … We all like each other, we’re all just good.”