Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
FORT WORTH – The Mineral Wells Rams (15-9, 6-1) are officially playoff-bound after a breezy 14-6 win over the Diamond Hill-Jarvis Eagles (4-13, 0-7) in a three-hour affair, Friday night, on the north side of Fort Worth.
After jumping out to an 11-0 lead in the first two-and-a-half innings, the Rams' offense slowed down and let the Eagles hang around, causing the game to stretch seven innings.
But don't be discouraged by the amount of time it took Mineral Wells to dispatch District 6-3A's bottom-feeders. As with everything, there was a silver lining to the longer-than- expected Diamond Hill game, as it allowed the Rams to get some much-needed work from their bullpen and bench players.
"It took a little longer than I thought, but we jumped out to an 11-0 lead and my focus immediately goes to what we will need down the line," head coach Bret Barrick said after the win. "That was an excellent game for us to go seven, because guys got work that needed to work. We're going to need guys that are coming off the bench getting playing time and we're going to need guys that are going to pitch for us when we're in a three-game playoff series to get some innings.
"When you're trying to work four starters – five or six pitchers – it's really hard to get guys innings. So, I saw an opportunity. Pitchers that haven't been on the mound in a long time got up there and threw against live hitting and that's huge for us. That's going to turn into some positives down the line.
"We could have just left guys in there and maybe went home in five (innings), but the guys that got in there needed to play."
In all, Mineral Wells trotted four pitchers onto the mound, two of which had not pitch in a game situation in three weeks or more.
Chris Rapp started the game and got credit for the win, allowing three runs – all earned – on five hits and a walk and tossing six strikeouts in three innings of work. Rapp would spend the rest of the game essentially taking a walking tour of the baseball diamond, seeing time at third base, shortstop and left field.
McCain Mason would take over the next two innings, allowing one hit, one earned run and a walk to go along with four strikeouts during that span. In his first pitching appearance since the March 21 Diamond Hill win, Mason struggled with his command at times, which Barrick said sometimes concerns him. But Mason was still able to post a solid stat line in an efficient outing.
The trouble with Mason, an incredible, young athlete that excels at multiple positions all over the field, is he has a tendency to get frustrated with himself, which can lead to more mistakes when tense. Barrick said the coaching staff is trying to teach the sophomore stud to take things in stride.
"McCain is harder on himself than anyone else is," Barrick said. "He's just got to relax, take some deep breaths and just kind of let things go and go play. He's working on that, too, and doing a good job."
Taking over for Mason on the hill was shortstop Colby Kissinger, who allowed two hits, two unearned runs and a walk in one inning. He also fanned a batter in his first mound appearance since an 11-3 loss to Argyle, March 14.
As he has done many times, catcher Braxton Allen closed out the game in his first pitching appearance since Kennedale, March 28. He allowed not hits, struck out two and walked one in a shutout seventh inning.
The beauty of these four Rams getting game time on the mound is they were all able to keep their pitch counts relatively low, leading Barrick to say that his rotation will not be affected and every pitcher will be available for the Rams' upcoming game against Springtown.
The three relief pitchers each threw around 35 pitches, while Rapp topped out at only around 50 throws in three innings.
"We throw a 45-to-50-pitch bullpen all the time, so, really we're wide open," Barrick said. "We'll see how it goes. I'll talk to Coach Burns this weekend and we'll see how we want to attack the last three (district games), because that's the key. We're in the playoffs now, so all we have to worry about is fighting for that district championship, and it still has to come through Mineral Wells."
Among the reserves that saw playing time were Tanner Newsom, Brayden Garcia, Tyler Radford and Justyn Lee. Each contributed to the Rams' second strong offensive outing in a row that will serve as a building block for Mineral Wells' three most important games of the season.
Mason was a force at the plate, finishing 2-for-4 with two doubles and five RBIs. But no one hit for contact like Allen, who was 4-for-5 with a triple and an RBI.
In all, seven Rams hit for extra bases, as Newsom, Rapp, Kissinger, Cameron Bullock and Chris Ortiz each joined Mason and Allen eating imaginary soup on base after big hits.
"Offensively, we just backed up a good game with another good game," Barrick said. "That's a positive, because we're going to need the bats to come alive in these last three. It was a good game for us. We got a lot of good work."
Heading into the home stretch of their schedule, the Rams face there most important opponents in the next three with games against Springtown, Kennedale and Castleberry before a non-district finale against Bridgeport.
As they have all season, the Rams have a district championship on their minds as they will head to enemy territory versus Springtown and play their final three games at home. Barrick said the mantra remains the same.
"One game at a time," he said. "We can't look ahead to Kennedale, because we've got Springtown first. Right now, we're in kind of a playoff mode, which is good for us because we get a three-game warm-up before we get into the playoffs. It'll be a playoff atmosphere at all of them."
Playoff mode begins with the trip to Springtown, Tuesday, where first pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Porcupines' athletic complex.