Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
BOWIE – It was just as head coach Bret Barrick feared.
Despite a valiant comeback and a gutsy pitching performance from senior Chris Rapp, the Mineral Wells Rams ran out of late-game magic Friday on the campus of Bowie High School and fell to the Vernon Lions, 5-3, in a single-game, bi-district playoff series to put an end to the Rams' state championship aspirations and their 2014 season.
A brilliant 17-10 campaign, including an unlikely District 6-3A championship and a historic sweep of Kennedale, ultimately came down to the flip of a coin. With the fate of the Rams' season left in the hands of chance, it was the District 5-3A fourth-place Vernon Lions (7-16, 2-6) who got to decide in favor of a one game series. And just like that, a four-run second inning proved the difference maker in Mineral Wells' season, as the Lions advanced and the Rams were left shaking their heads.
"It just wasn't our day," Barrick said. "We were a little jittery to start things off and it took us two innings before we could finally settle down and start playing. Give Vernon some credit, they've got some great kids. They did a good job and came out and put the ball in play.
"That big second inning put it to where we had to work extremely hard to get back in it. But I was very proud of the kids. They fought and played hard to get back in it. We had a chance right there, but we just kind of ran out of magic.
"I'd like to play them in a series. I think with two out of three, we'd have a chance to get them. But that's how it goes. When you lose the flip, you put it all on chance."
Regardless of whether a coin flip is a valid method in the process of crowning an eventual state champion, the Mineral Wells Rams knew they would have their work cut out for them against a team with upset on their minds.
Things started out rocky, as the upstart Lions jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, thanks primarily to their big second inning during which all four runs were plated with two outs.
It was at that point that senior Chris Rapp took over on the mound for sophomore Braxton Allen, pitching a memorable gem as only he could.
In his last game in a Rams uniform, Rapp mowed through opposing batters and worked his way out of countless jams to toss 4-1/3 innings of scoreless baseball to keep his team in the game right to the end.
"I know for a fact I gave it my all," Rapp said. "I felt like we should have won, no matter what. We gave it our all and there's nothing to be upset about."
Rapp's day was epitomized by a play he made at home in the sixth inning. With the bases loaded, a pitch squirted past Allen at home plate and Vernon's runner at third base took off toward home. But in a heads-up play Allen flipped the ball back to Rapp, who sprinted toward the plate and dove in front of the runner, contorting his back, and getting the out to keep the Rams within striking distance at 5-3 going into the game's final frame.
The collision at home left the senior in pain, but he elected to finish the game in what was close to an instant-classic victory.
"I'm pretty sure I put some ribs out of place," Rapp said with a characteristic wry smile when discussing his play in the sixth. "I've got a huge knot going all the way up my back. My shoulder's killing me. But I couldn't feel better. I wouldn't give up on my brothers."
As bleak as things seemed in the early going, the Rams never counted themselves out. As they had done so often throughout the regular season, they clawed their way back into the game and came painfully close to pulling another win out of their collective hats.
It all started in the bottom of the fifth frame, when first-pitch singles from Bob Boudreau and McCain Mason and an error by the shortstop put Cameron Bullock aboard to load the bases with no outs. Boudreau found his way home on a fielder's choice off the bat of Chris Ortiz and Rapp delivered a sacrifice fly into right field to plate Bullock.
The next inning, Allen got some redemption for his shaky start, blasting a towering solo home run over the high left field wall, 312 feet away, to bring the Rams within two. It was his first homer of the season and the team's fourth.
After the ball left his bat, Allen said his mind immediately went to his late mother, Robin Allen, who passed away unexpectedly last September.
"It felt great," he said. "I knew who I was doing it for. I just have no words for it. I'm just glad I finally got to hit a home run for my mom.
"I got my head down after the first inning, because I was sucking bad. My teammates brought me back up and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have hit at all today."
Barrick said he was pleased with the way his team showed their grit once again to end the season.
"The kids never gave up," he said. "They never quit and that's going to benefit us down the line. That's where we've come from. That's what Mineral Wells baseball is. We've matured a lot over the last four or five years and we don't ever think we're out of a game. We're going to fight to the finish and that's what I like to see. That's what makes me proud."
Barrick added he did not want the untimely playoff loss to tarnish an otherwise spectacular season by his team.
"It doesn't take away from what we've done this year. This team has come a million miles. Nobody gave us a chance to beat Kennedale and we swept them. I'm just proud of these kids. I love every one of them."