By TONY EIERDAM
If one thing can be said about the 2013 Mineral Wells Rams baseball team, it would be that it is a team that never gives up.
Under strange circumstances that turned what was planned to be a best-of-three area championship series between the Rams and Alvarado into a one-game series – and a single game that was played in two locations – the Rams fell behind 3-0 before getting the tying and go-ahead runs on the bases in the final inning.
The Rams were in good position to at least tie the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.
But Alvarado pitcher Dylan Lemons got the out he needed when MWHS senior Matt Tincher grounded out to second base to end the game and send the Indians to the regional quarterfinal with a 3-1 win in a game that began Friday in Alvarado and ended Saturday afternoon in Mineral Wells.
In fact, Tincher’s hustle on that last play typified the Rams as a team. Alvarado second baseman Jay Holland hesitated as he caught the ground ball, and as he approached the first-base bag Tincher dove and stretched out his arms. But the throw barely beat the diving, hustling Tincher as Alvarado sealed the win.
“It (near comeback) shows the character of the kids that we have and their attitudes and work ethic,” Rams head coach Bret Barrick said. “They don’t have any quit in them, and they fought until the very last out.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The opener of what was to be a best-of-three series began Friday night in Alvarado.
But with the Rams batting and trailing 2-0 in the top of the second inning with one out and runners at first and third base, heavy rain soaked the Indians’ field, and the series, according to University Interscholastic League rules, reverted to a one-game series.
Since Mineral Wells had game two on Saturday scheduled, the rules stated that the game shifts to the host of the second game and be turned into a one-game series, with the game picking up where it left off.
The Rams were down 3-0 as they took their turn to bat in the top of the seventh inning.
Although the Rams were playing at home, since the game was allowed to pick up where it left off everything stayed the same, including Alvarado getting to bat last as it did on Friday.
With one out in the seventh, Rams right fielder Dan Reay Turk lined a double to left field. The next batter, Chris Rapp, grounded out into a fielder’s choice, and on the play Turk advanced to third.
Lemons then threw a wild pitch that allowed Turk to hustle home to cut the Indians’ lead to 3-1.
The play put a spark in the Rams’ offense. Paden Patino followed with an infield single.
The next batter, freshman catcher Braxton Allen, swatted a two-out single, and Colby Kissinger followed and loaded the bases on an infield hit. Again, it was a hustling effort by the Rams as Kissinger beat out a throw from the left side of the infield to keep MWHS alive.
But the Rams just couldn’t get the big hit in the inning as Alvarado won the game by an inch with the ground out that ended the contest.
“Going into the seventh we were down three, and we had not done much all day,” Barrick said. “But the kids kept fighting and fighting, and they found a way to get the tying run at second base and the go-ahead run at first.
“That’s all I could ask of them. Our kids play their guts out all of the time.”
It was the third consecutive year the Rams had made it to at least the area (second) round of the playoffs. The Rams were also one out away from tying for the district championship.
“We had an outstanding season,” Barrick said. “We had a chance in the final district game to get a share of the district championship, and that’s all you can ever ask for, is to have a chance to play for a district championship.
“Then we win a bi-district series and play a good Alvarado team down to the wire. It was just one of those deals where it was bam-bam at first base for the final out.
“If Matt is safe it would have tied the game because Braxton (Allen) was running all the way from second base and would have scored.
“It just didn’t go our way at the end. But this does not take away from an outstanding season. This is the third year in a row we have played in the area round, and we have some great kids coming up to keep the tradition we have established in our program going.”
In Tincher’s final high school game, the lefty allowed no earned runs on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in five innings.
Aaron Wheeler, who started on the mound in Alvarado on Friday, allowed two runs on three hits with one strikeout in one inning.
Lemons, the winning pitcher, allowed a run on four hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in seven innings.
“Tincher pitched his guts out,” Barrick said. “He got up there and pitched well enough to win. We just came up a little bit short at the end. We didn’t get a big hit when we needed it.
“Matt had a great high school career, and he is the best pitcher I have ever been around. He will go down as one of the best pitchers Mineral Wells has seen. Matt has a lot ahead of him in baseball. He will go to Seminole College next year, and I can’t wait to see him pitch at the next level.”
On Friday, the Indians used three consecutive hits – the second a double by Lemons – to score two runs in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead.
When the game shifted to Mineral Wells, the Rams had runners on first and third with one out in the top of the second inning. But Lemons got a strikeout and a long fly ball out to get out of the jam.
Alvarado scored an unearned run in the third to increase its lead to 3-0. The Indians took advantage of a two-base error, and Marcus McNeil drove in Dusty Abshire (who reached on the error) with a single to center field.
The Rams got two runners on base with one out in the fourth inning when Kristian Santibanez drew a walk and Bob Boudreau reached on an infield single.
But Lemons struck out the next two batters to keep the Rams off the board.
Lemons retired six of the next seven batters he faced through the fifth and sixth frames, with the lone Ram to get on base in that span Allen, who reached on an error by the right fielder.
Tincher got stronger as the game progressed as he retired the last seven batters he faced.
That set up the final half-inning as Alvarado survived and will advance to the regional quarterfinals against Stephenville.
By TONY EIERDAM
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