|NO TIME: Controversial call figures in Wildcats' extra-inning loss|
|Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer|
April 21, 2004 -- GREENVILLE - Sulphur Springs' playoff hopes were hanging by the thinnest of threads, but the Wildcats appeared to be taking care of business against Greenville.
As is the case with many teams who struggle during the course of the season, SSHS wasn't able to close the door and was involved in some late-game controversy as well in their eventual 6-5 eight-inning loss.
Greenville's Colton Cummings singled to left to plate Travis Smith with the winning run in the bottom of the extra inning.
Sam Smith's third homer of the season in the seventh put the Wildcats up by two with three outs to go, when disaster struck.
Craig Turner singled and Paul Brancheau walked to start the inning in the Lions' half of the seventh. Lance Brogan's sacrifice bunt moved the runners up 90 feet, and SSHS still had the game in hand even after Chase Potter's sacrifice fly to center.
Smith caught the medium-range fly and threw to third, where Brancheau was safe on a bang-bang play. The umpire held his hands up appearing to give Brancheau a timeout.
Kevin Roberts tried to show some senior leadership and grabbed his teammates together at the mound for a pep talk with one out remaining for the win, when Brancheau made a mad dash for home plate and scored the tying run. Gabe Garcia, who was called up from the junior varsity team, flied to second for what should have been the final out of the game.
"I was looking at the scoreboard seeing how many outs there were," Sam Smith said. "It's one thing for them to hit a line drive and win the game, but it's tougher to take with them beating us the way they did."
The umpire told a furious head coach Rahn Smith he never called timeout, and an upset Wildcat team never recovered. Scott Stewart got his first varsity hit, Roberts reached base for the fourth straight time with a single and both runners advanced a base on an error. Brancheau got the final two outs to get out of the inning unscathed and eventually secure the win.
"The kids played well enough to win, and you hate to see a game come down to an umpire's call," Rahn Smith said. "That's not to say we didn't cost ourselves at times, missing some signs, including a squeeze in the eighth and having some base-running miscues early. It never should have come down to that play really."
SSHS (9-14-1, 2-6 District 11-4A) looked like a team on the mission after being retired in order in the first inning, even with the absence of their hottest hitter, Ryan Allison, who was attending his grandfather's funeral.
Casey McMahan led off the second with a single, and Josh Riley followed with a double off the right-field wall that missed going over by inches. Aguilar walked to load the bases, and Roberts reached on an RBI groundout that drove in McMahan. Riley and courtesy runner Stewart scored on Zack Wilhite's two-RBI single to center, but Roberts was caught out between second and third. Adam Peugh, who also singled, was caught stealing for the second straight game to end the inning.
Aguilar escaped a lead-off walk in the first inning, but consecutive free passes to Travis Smith and Alex Heavin in the second would come back to haunt him. Taylor Carter drove both runners in with a double down the right-field line and tried to stretch it into a triple, but Riley took a perfect relay throw from Wilhite and gunned him out at third.
GHS (12-11, 5-3) tied the game with a mini two-out rally in the fourth, as Heavin singled to short center and scored on Cummings' triple off the left-field wall.
Aguilar drew a walk in the sixth, and courtesy runner Colston Copeland, who had to endure a funeral of his own Tuesday, scored for a 4-3 lead. Heavin was lifted for Brancheau, who struck out the final two batters to leave Roberts stranded at third.
The Wildcats got a much-needed insurance run in the seventh, as Smith took a first-pitch fastball from Brancheau over the center-field wall for his third homer of the season, including his second off Brancheau in as many years. Smith had struck out his first two plate appearances but broke an 0-for-6 slump dating back to his last hit, a home run April 13 against Denison.
"He was throwing first-pitch breaking balls to most of the hitters, but coach told me to jump on the first fastball I saw," Sam Smith said. "I've faced him (Brancheau) quite a few times, and hopefully this will get me out of the funk I've been in."
Travis Smith doubled to the left-field corner to lead off the eighth, and Heavin walked to lead up to Cummings' game winner, as Aguilar was unable to leave his frustrations in the dugout.
"The guys lost their focus, and it affected the way we got some calls later in the game," Rahn Smith said. "The momentum definitely switched in their favor, and it was tough to come back at that point."
The unfortunate thing for the Wildcats wasn't as much the loss, but more the fact that it cost them a shot at the playoffs. Rahn Smith said that's what hurts the most.
"I didn't tell them how much was riding on this game, because I wanted them simply to go out and win," Rahn Smith said. "It was disheartening because of how hard the kids worked this season. It does put us out of the playoffs, and it's sad it had to come down to an umpire's call and not an actual play."
Notes: McKinney North clinched the district title with its 7-0 win over Denison. ...Greenville's playoff standing improved a bit, as Sherman's 7-6 loss to Paris bumped the Lions to second. GHS and the Bearcats meet Friday night in Greenville.