Thereís a saying in baseball that "the last out is the hardest to get."
That phrase was never more true than three hours into a draining extra-innings fight the Thrall Tigers found themselves into to extend their season.
With what appeared to be a sizeable four-run lead heading into the final half inning, the Tigers saw the Shiner Comanches battle back to tie the game in the seventh, and later win 8-7 in nine innings.
The final two runs in the seventh inning scored with two outs, and both runs in the ninth crossed the plate with two down as well.
"We have been preaching how to handle adversity all season, and I am proud of how we handled it here," said Thrall coach Jeff Doege. "Baseball is a lot like life; it doesnít always go how you want it to. This game has many swings and is like a rollercoaster. We didnít finish it out, and that is bad for our guys because they deserved to win it."
The Tigers looked to be cruising to victory thanks to some first-inning offense and a strong pitching performance Ė all spurred by a group of determined seniors.
These guys have been good for us for three years," Doege said of his five seniors. "It started with them buying into the program I was bringing in. These kids have great team chemistry and this is the greatest group to coach."
The Tigers jumped on Shiner pitching early, scoring four runs in the first inning, powered by a three-run triple by senior Branson Chandler. Seniors Aaron Kirby and Tucker Lovelace each singled and Colton Mikulencak reached on an error to load the bases and with two outs, Chandler belted a three-run triple for a quick lead. Before the inning was over, he scampered home on a wild pitch, staking pitcher Tucker Lovelace to a 4-0 lead.
Lovelace held the Comanches down for three innings, then had to battle in the fourth and fifth. He pitched out of a jam in the fourth with runners at second and third with no one out and then the bases loaded with one out.
Shiner was able to push one run across, but Lovelace induced back-to-back ground balls to get out of the inning with minimal damage.
Thrall got the run back in two at bats as Kirby doubled down the left field line, then Mikulencak drove him in with a single.
Again, in the bottom of the fifth, Shiner scored a run on a walk and a triple, but stranded a runner and trailed 5-2. The Comanches stranded six runners in six innings.
Through six innings, pitcher Tucker Lovelace allowed three hits and two runs, striking out seven.
Thrall tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh when senior Hayden Caffey led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Kirby. Mikulencak singled up the middle to bring the run in.
Aaron Kirby came on in relief in the seventh and struck out the first batter he faced. He struggled, though, and after a walk and a single, he was replaced by Mikulencak. Two more singles, an error and a hit batsman later, though, and the big lead had vanished.
The two teams each came up empty in the eighth inning, but Thrall went ahead again in the top of the ninth. Caffey walked to open the inning, then moved to second on an error and third on a ground ball by Mikluencak. Tucker Lovelace then hit a two-out double to the wall in left for the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the inning, Mikulencak got a fly ball out to open the inning, but an error then put the tying run on. A ground out got the Tigers within one out of victory, but another error allowed the tying run to score in front of a double by Shinerís Jake Jalufka that drove home the winning run.
Shinerís ace Ky Sandelovic was the workhorse for the Comanches, picking up the win by pitching five innings in relief after pitching a complete game for the win the night before.
Prior to the seventh inning of game three, Thrallís pitching trio of Kirby, Mikulencak and Tucker Lovelace had limited Shiner to six runs on 14 hits in 20 innings. The three combined to strike out 19 in those 20 innings.
We knew this series would come down to pitching and defense," Doege said. You have to give them credit, they are a really good team and found a way to get it done. We are going to build on this experience and get better."