The Cleburne Yellow Jackets were inches away from a return trip to the Class 4A state championship in game 2 on Friday, but the Jackets came up just short as Wichita Falls Rider took game 2, 8-7, in nine innings. The Raiders then ended the Jackets’ season in the decisive game 3 with a 4-0 win in the Class 4A regional finals at Northwest High School.
It was the first time all season Cleburne lost back-to-back games, and the 4-0 loss in game 3 was the first time Cleburne lost a game by more than one run this year.
In game 3, the Jackets committed two errors in the first inning which led to three Rider runs. And that was all the offense the Raiders needed in the close-out game as Cleburne managed only five base hits for the game. Rider added one more run in the third inning.
The Jackets put men on second and third base in the seventh inning, but were unable to get them across the plate. Cleburne struggled advancing base runners all game long. The Jackets put the leadoff batter on base in the first four innings, but the Cleburne offense was unable to get the clutch hits they had become accustomed to getting this season.
Casey Kirkland started game 3 for the Jackets, but walked three of the first four batters he faced and the other batter reached on an error, before Coach Ross Taylor put Daniel Richardson on the mound. Richardson pitched the rest of the game, but Rider’s Alec Lemmon and Jordan McQuerry combined to shut down the Cleburne offense.
Errors were the biggest culprit in the Jackets’ season coming up short. On the day, for games 2 and 3 combined, Cleburne committed eight errors — five in game 2 and three in game 3.
“You’ve got to grind,” Taylor said. “... They have to show up and play, they have to make plays, they have to put the ball in play. [Rider] tried kicking it to us, too. They made errors. It was just one of those deals where we made more than they did at the wrong time.
“We made more errors in that game 2 than we have the whole playoffs. For whatever reason — wind blowing in, nervous, big crowd, too loud — I don’t know. I don’t know why guys who haven’t made an error in six or seven weeks, all of a sudden make two in one inning.”
Dylan Schneider went 1-for-1 with two walks in game 3 to lead the Jackets offensively. Nick Woodall was 1-for-3 with a walk.
In game 2, the Jackets’ offense was shut down by Rider’s David Pewenofkit for six innings as the Raiders took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.
Similar to the previous three games, Cleburne rallied. The Jackets scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, helped along by three Rider errors, to tie the game and send it into extra innings. And Cleburne was inches away from winning in walk-off fashion.
Tucker Nolen led off the seventh as he reached base on an error and Quade Coward reached via a hit-by-pitch. Schneider then drew a walk to load the bases with nobody out.
Richardson drove in Nolen on a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1. Kirkland then reached base via an error. On Kirkland’s grounder, Rider had a chance to end the game on a double play, but the exchange at second base went awry, and the bases were loaded with one out.
Logan Runyon then drove in Coward on an RBI groundout to make it 5-2. But the Jackets trailed by three runs with only one out left.
Woodall reached base on an infield single that bounced off Pewenofkit’s hand, which scored Schneider to make it 5-3. Stevan Martinez then drew a walk to load the bases.
Tyler Fowler then grounded to third base, but the throw to record the final out was low and bounced down the first base line, which allowed two runs to cross the plate to tie it at 5. Martinez rounded third base for the game-winning run, but was thrown out at the plate, and the game went to extra innings.
“When Stevan’s coming around third, their guy hasn’t even picked the ball up yet and he makes a great throw,” Taylor said. “He had to make a great throw. I think if it bounces or if it’s up the line two feet, we win that game, 6-5, but he makes a great throw and we go into extra innings and they just did more than we did. It was really more about the errors.”
After a scoreless eighth inning for both teams, including Fowler striking out the side, Rider scored three runs in the top of the ninth, with two of those runs coming with two outs, as the Raiders recaptured the momentum.
Finding themselves with their backs against the wall again, the Jackets threatened to extend the game in the bottom of the ninth. Cleburne scored two runs to make it interesting, but the Jackets grounded out to second base with Martinez stranded on third base as the tying run to end the game.
Fowler (10-3) pitched 8 1/3 innings for the Jackets, but was given the loss. Fowler had five strikeouts and allowed five hits and three walks. Richardson pitched the final 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on a walk and one hit.
“It still comes down to not what they did to us but what we did to ourselves,” Taylor said. “We’ve got seven losses on the year, and all seven are more about what we did to ourselves than what the teams did against us.
“We had won [in the playoffs], 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 and it’s kind of like, ‘here we go again.’ We beat [Austin] Hagy, their No. 1. Then [we knew] Pewenokfit got beat by Canyon last week and we thought we were going to pound him, and he sat us down for about six innings and then we got something going on him. Then they brought in McQueery and we got a little bit going on him, but we just came up one [hit] short.”
Martinez went 2-for-4 with two singles and a walk and Runyon was 2-for-4 in game 2.
The Jackets ended their season with a 36-7 record.
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