The Big Sandy Wildcats ended its best baseball season in school history Saturday, with a pair of losses to the defending state champion Flatonia Bulldogs on the campus of Mumford ISD.
An early Wildcat lead in Game 2 evaporated in a big inning for the Bulldogs, which would be the final time Big Sandy would hold a lead in the series. Games of 4-1 and 7-0 ended the year one step away from the state tournament.
“It didn’t finish how I wanted, but to get this far, I have never been this far either as a head coach, so it was a special season,” Big Sandy coach Jacob Hooker said. “We have never been past the regional semifinals, so they have marked down something that they can start building toward as a tradition. They have done everything that I’ve asked since day one — lift, playing fall ball, throwing programs, and they got better as the season went. They are just a treat to work with.”
Layton Vonberg continued his role of on-base machine, leading the Wildcats off with a walk to begin the contest. Griffin sacrificed him to second on a bunt fielded in front of the mound. On an 0-1 count, Austin Hendrix lifted a one-hopper to the left field wall, scoring VonBerg and putting the junior on second for an early advantage.
Ethan Cherry worked his way out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom half, before a 30-minute rain delay swept through the complex.
T.J. Lilley welcomed the Bulldogs back with a base hit through the middle and then advanced on a passed ball in the second. Seth Maze worked a full count, fouling off a few pitches until getting ball four. A great bunt from Kyle Lenox down the third base line with the third baseman covering the bag filled the sacks with runners and no one out. A strikeout and two pop ups ended what was building to be a breakthrough inning.
“In Game 2, we left way too many runners on,” Hooker said. “If we would have put just half of them in play instead of popping out, it might have been a different story. Ethan pitched well, we just didn’t put the ball in play and that hurt us. We misplayed a few balls, but when you leave 12 on base, you’re not going to win.”
Casen Novak got the Bulldogs started in the third with a double that drifted to the wall. Hendrix, catching for the game, fielded a bunt and fired to third to get the lead runner. Cherry took care of the next two batters on strikeouts to preserve the small lead.
A close play at first with one out put Matthew Kozelsky on with a bunt. Novak then hit a shot off Cherry’s leg and both runners were safe. After a fly to right, Kaddin Mikulik hit a two-out single, scoring Kozelsky and tying the game at one. In two starts, it was the first run Cherry had surrendered in 12 innings. The Bulldogs weren’t done, however. Braydon Mica hit a double to left field, scoring two more and giving Flatonia the first lead of the series.
That brought Brandon Hendrix into the game as a reliever. His first pitch hit a batter, giving the Bulldogs runners at first and second. A walk loaded the bases and another brought in the fourth run. That sent Justin Adams in to pitch, who got a strikeout to end the damage.
A leadoff walk to Novak and error on a bunt by Andrew Dvorak put the first two runners aboard to start Game 3. Another mishandled bunt from the bat of Mikulik loaded the bags with no outs. Mica doubled to right and an early 2-0 lead had momentum on the side of the Bulldogs.
Kozelsky and Novak started Flatonia again in the second with one-out base hits. A hit batsman loaded the bases. Mikulik singled in a run and a walk allowed the fourth run to cross. After two innings, the Bulldogs held a 4-0 lead.
Flatonia would add a run in the third, fourth and sixth innings to push the gap to 7-0.
Cherry beat out an infield single in his final at bat for the Wildcats to lead off the seventh, but it was all they would get in the ‘Cats final time at bat. Flatonia’s Easton Migl threw all seven innings, posting 13 strikeouts and allowing just two hits.
“The kid that pitched Game 3 had mono, so he had been out for a couple of weeks,” Hooker said. “He’s pretty good.”
For the year, Big Sandy has a record of 28-7-1 and advanced further in the playoffs than any team they have put on the field.
Hooker believes there is plenty of reason his team of youngsters could also put together a memorable season next year.
“We have a really good group coming up,” he said. “We’re going to be really young and probably start four or five sophomores, but we will have a really strong nucleus and that freshman class could be really special.”