PESH continues to roll through playoffs
By Mike Kravk
On Saturday May 12, Plano East and Colleyville-Heritage played the third game of a best of three series in the second round of the 2012 baseball playoffs at McKinney Boyd High School. The winner of the game would win the series, become Area Champions and move on to Regional Quarterfinals.
Heritage entered the second round of the playoffs with a gaudy 27-4 record and the number seven ranking in the state. Heritage won District 6-5A with a 15-1 record and swept Midlothian in the first round of the playoffs. The Heritage team strength was very simple, they bludgeoned the baseball.
Plano East entered the second round of the playoffs with a 19-13-1 record and finished with a 10-4 record in District 8-5A. East started the season 4-8-1, put their wheels back on and then won 15 of their next 20 games including a defeat of highly regarded Keller Fossil Ridge in the first round of the playoffs. The team strengths of East weren’t as easy to identify because they didn’t do anything great but they did a lot of things very well.
Both teams lit up the scoreboard early (3-3 after two innings) but the pitchers from both teams found their rhythm and the game settled down. East DH Clark Kahawaii’s third inning single brought home Ryan Kravik but Heritage’s Christian Gonzales tied the game in the bottom of the fifth with a single that scored Brian Parks.
This game was special on many levels but namely because the cloud of elimination above was bearing down and nobody wanted to acknowledge it. The winners would advance to the third round while the losers were done. Some of the seniors would never play at a competitive level this high or meaningful for the rest of their lives.
Heritage pitcher Jake Thompson came on in relief in the first inning with his team down 2-0 but stopped the bleeding and kept his team in the game. By the sixth inning, East was starting to get a bead on Thompson. Jacob Delacruz came to the plate with runners on first and second with two outs. Delacruz was sitting on a first pitch curveball but just missed squaring the ball up and flew out to medium deep centerfield.
James Rudkin had survived the early fireworks and once again took the mound in the sixth for East. He retired the first two Heritage hitters before giving up a walk to TJ Schaefer. Matt Barke converted on a hit-and-run play and dumped a single to right field. Schaefer never hesitated and scampered for third base. Kravik fielded Barke’s hit and threw a thunderbolt to Delacruz. The ball beat Schaefer by ten feet but the umpire saw through the cloud of dust and ruled Schaefer safe.
Barke moved up to second base on the throw leaving first base open. Up next was Cody Thomas, one of the best hitters in the state. Thomas had gone a loud 5 for 8 in the series with a couple of bombs so East chose to walk him and face Parks. Rudkin induced a ground ball to his shortstop Nick Ramos who gobbled it up and threw out Parks.
In the top of the seventh, East loaded the bases with one out. Heritage brought in Jason Adams to face Cody Lenderman who hit into a fielder’s choice. Adams then got Sam Lane on a ground out to second base. Heritage had escaped and was now primed to win the game and the series.
Preston Palmiero lofted a single to left field to lead off the seventh and then took second base on a passed ball. East senior Alex Stuart was in the East bullpen furiously warming up. Gonzales ripped another single to right field and Kravik fielded it cleanly. Instead of sending the runner home, the Heritage coach pointed to third base and held the runner.
Heritage now had runners on first and third base with no outs. East coach Travis Collins brought Stuart in while Rudkin moved over to first base. With “Born to be Wild” wafting through the speakers, the long-haired, flame-throwing, 6’4”senior from East began to warm-up. Before facing Nolan Brown, Stuart went behind the mound and stared at centerfield. He took a deep breath, turned around and started rubbing the baseball. This was the right man at the right time for Plano East.
East pulled the infield in and Brown smoked a ground ball to East 2B Ryan Rettke. The runner on third held and Rettke threw out Brown. Andrew Case hit a pop-up to Rudkin for the second out. Lefty Brad Piper stepped to the plate and lofted a high fly ball to left field.
The ball was a can of corn off the bat and seemed to hang in the air forever but then it started fading towards the left field line. East leftfielder Jacob Boucher and shortstop Ramos were running for their baseball lives trying to save the season. Nobody could call for the ball because neither one of them was sure they could get there. The ball was still hanging in the air, two trains at full speed were about to hit and the East season was going to end. This special game was now going to have a cheesy Hollywood ending where everybody is moving in slow motion. At the last second, Ramos braced for the collision by arching his back and then made one of the greatest catches anybody at Plano East had ever seen.
Heritage picked up two quick outs in the top of the eighth but Delacruz roped a double to the gap in right field. Cooper Small ran for Delacruz and Kravik was up for East. Kravik hit a rocket at the Heritage first-basemen that ticked his glove and slipped behind him. Small never stopped running and East led 5-4.
Stuart returned to the mound for the bottom of the eighth and retired Schaefer on a come-backer. Barke ripped another single which brought up Thomas. There was no place to hide now and East had to pitch to Thomas. Stuart coaxed a long fly out to left-field for the second out. East was now one out away from winning the series.
Brian Park singled to right field. The bases were then loaded when Palmiero walked. Heritage now had the winning run in scoring position. There was absolute bedlam in the stands. Stuart went behind the mound, rubbed the ball and like any good closer should, soaked up the moment
Gonzales ripped Stuart’s pitch up the middle but directly into the glove of Ramos who stepped on second base. East students and parents were hugging, crying, yelling, jumping and high-fiving. The players from
East dog-piled Stuart on the mound not only because they were advancing but because they had played in one of the greatest games of their lives and had come out on the other side.