Mineral Wells Index
BY TONY EIERDAM
A near District 6-3A championship and a bi-district title were the highlights of the Mineral Wells Rams in the 2013 baseball season.
The Rams came within one inning of sharing the 6-3A championship with Kennedale before defeating Iowa Park in a two-game sweep for the bi-district championship.
The season ended strangely in the area (second) round against Alvarado in a one-game series that began as a best-of-three series and concluded with a one-game affair spread out over two days and at two locations.
The Rams fell 3-1 to the Indians to conclude the season.
The Rams were led again by the left arm of pitcher Matt Tincher, who concluded a brilliant career with 340 strikeouts. Tincher struck out 14 batters in his win over Iowa Park that clinched the bi-district playoff series, and he finished 2013 with 138 strikeouts in 76 innings.
The Rams will lose Tincher and six other seniors to graduation, but in 2013 they found a brilliant catcher in freshman Braxton Allen, and junior Colby Kissinger entrenched himself as the starting shortstop.
The team also displayed a never-say-die attitude which was reflected in the final inning of 2013. The Rams were down 3-0 to Alvarado heading into the final inning and after scoring a run and loading the bases were one inch away from tying that contest.
Rams head coach Bret Barrick is proud of the fact that his program has made it to at least the second round of the playoffs for three consecutive years.
“At some point and time you have to have one team that takes off and sets a precedent, and that was our 2011 team,” he said. “Three years ago, we dropped from Class 4A to 3A, and we felt like we were on a level playing field competing against schools our own size.
“Now every sport at Mineral Wells expects to make the playoffs, and baseball is no different.”
Barrick feels now the baseball team’s expectation is not just to make the playoffs, but to win a playoff series.
“Last year, we won a playoff series for the first time since the early 1960s, so this year our goal was to go out and at least win that first playoff series again.
“Our kids did a good job of taking it one game at a time and not looking ahead. Last year’s long playoff run (fourth round) helped us in the first round this year. We had won that first playoff series before and we knew what we needed to do to win one again.”
After defeating Iowa Park in the bi-district series, 5-2, 8-1, the Rams fell 3-1 to Alvarado under strange circumstances.
While trailing 2-0 in the top of the second inning in Alvarado in what was supposed to be game one of a best-of-three area series, heavy rain postponed the “series.” With Friday rained out the series, under UIL rule, shifted to a one-game series. The game would be picked up in progress the next day in Mineral Wells.
Alvarado, now facing Tincher, scored an unearned run for a 3-0 lead. The Rams got a run back in the seventh and had the tying run on second base with two outs. Tincher almost beat out a ground ball to the second baseman, and on the play Allen was crossing the plate with the tying run but Tincher’s dive into first base was just short as the umpire ruled an out as Alvarado hung on for the win.
“We got beat by a really good Alvarado team,” Barrick said. “We were close to being in the regional quarterfinals for a second year in a row with a chance to go on further in the playoffs.
“Our kids have accepted that the expectation is to be a playoff team. These kids love playing baseball.”
Barrick said the graduating seniors – Tincher, Brandon Martinez, Dan Reay Turk, Aaron Wheeler, Sean McGuire, Kristian Santibanez and Garrison Sanchez – will be missed and helped forge the foundation that is today’s Rams baseball program.
“We may never see a guy like Tincher again around here,” Barrick said. “I had never seen anyone like him before.
“Matt carried us on the mound this year, and he gave our kids a lot of confidence when he was on the mound. Then that confidence carried over and it didn’t matter who was on the mound.
“He is a special kid, and I wish him the best of luck. But I will miss our other seniors as well. Each one of them contributed, even Garrison who was an all-district catcher last year but was injured all season this year.
“But he helped Braxton out at catcher and was a big part of our success. All of these seniors will be missed. They stepped up and performed.”
In district play, the Rams had a 7-2 record as they headed into the district finale at Kennedale. The Rams held a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning, but Kennedale rallied and scored three runs to seal the win and clinch the outright district title. The Rams finished in second place with a 7-3 district mark.
“Playing in that last Kennedale game helped our confidence a lot,” Barrick said. “After that game I told our kids if (Kennedale) was the No. 8-ranked team in the state then we were probably as close to the No. 9 team as we can.
“Playing a team like Kennedale twice in district gave us the experience necessary to compete in the playoffs. Every game we played against Kennedale had a playoff-type atmosphere.”
The Rams took that confidence and swept Iowa Park in the first round of the playoffs. Barrick said he was unsure about his No. 2 pitcher, Wheeler, coming into the series.
Wheeler allowed only one hit and struck out six to give the Rams a 1-0 lead in the series with Tincher ready to follow on the hill the next day. Tincher struck out 14 in the near-shutout win that clinched the series and advanced the Rams to the area round.
“Aaron did a great job, and then we handed the ball to Matt in game two,” Barrick said. “We always felt we could beat anybody with Matt on the mound.
“Tincher was 18-5 over three years, and when you have that kind of record obviously you are tough to beat.”
The Rams would follow the next week with the loss to Alvarado. Barrick was disappointed it the series was washed out and reduced to one game.
“It is what it is,” Barrick said. “I was comfortable with Matt coming in and pitching when we continued the game the next day, but I just wish we would have gotten to start the game over at 0-0 instead of us trailing 2-0 and picking the game up where we left it the night before.
“The suspended game put us behind the eight-ball, and we knew we were going to outplay a really good baseball team in order to win. Our kids fought hard and we ended up losing at the very end.
“Had Matt been safe at first on the bang-bang play at the end we would have tied the score because Braxton was crossing home plate (as the tying run) as the umpire was calling Matt out.
“We were an inch away form coming back from an 0-3 deficit against a good baseball team. I wish we could have played a three-game series.”
Barrick said when he looks back at the season he will see a team that never gave up and did a good job of plugging the holes left by graduating seniors from the year before.
“The biggest thing about 2013 is we had kids who stepped up and filled holes,” he said. “Our kids matured throughout the season and district.
“After the first round of district we were tied for third place, but the kids came back and were an inning away from running the table in the second half and gaining a share of the district championship.
“The kids stepped up and played the way they were capable of playing. Our young kids also gained a lot of maturity, which will help next year.
“Next year we will reload and make another playoff run. This was a great season, the kids did a tremendous job of competing and giving themselves opportunities to advance far in the playoffs.
“I am very proud of the guys, and I think we had a great season. They never quit and they played their guts out.
“As long as they continue to do that we will have a pretty good baseball program.”