By BILL PETERSON
Texas State’s baseball team suffered another inglorious finish Saturday afternoon, ending a glorious season with startling immediacy.
The Bobcats blew a crooked-run lead in the opponent’s final at-bat for the second day in a row, bowing out of the Austin Regional of the NCAA Tournament with a 7-4 loss to Army at Disch-Falk Field on the University of Texas campus.
Owning a 4-2 lead going to Army’s turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth inning, Texas State promptly allowed five runs and found itself fighting from a three-run deficit in the top of the ninth. Unlike Friday’s 8-7 loss to Boston College, in which the opponent smashed the ball all over the lot for six runs in the ninth entirely on account of the relief pitchers, Saturday’s fold-up owed to contributions from the Texas State defense, which fed the Army rally with two errors.
In the end, Texas State coach Ty Harrington chalked it up to experience. The Bobcats bowed out of the double-elimination tournament after only two games because they simply weren’t ready to close them out either time.
“What we will take out of the weekend is a comfort level of participating in tournaments like this,” Harrington said. “You have to get to this point to experience it. You have to execute at this level. We weren’t able to execute late in both games. In the future, we’ll work and I’ll do a better job of preparing them for the moment.”
The Bobcats end the season 41-17, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000. They won their first outright regular season title in the Southland Conference, then snagged their first at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
One season, especially this one, is part of a larger game, which is the game of being NCAA worthy every year. If the Bobcats weren’t quite ready to seize the opportunity this weekend, signs are good that they can create more opportunities in the future.
“I’m very positive,” Harrington said. “The new stadium and the ability to recruit to it will help us. The recognition that this team has brought to the university is unbelievable. We opened the new stadium on March 3 against the University of Texas and that created a buzz like we don’t have in San Marcos.”
Because the refurbished Bobcat Field didn’t open until March, it couldn’t help Harrington with last fall’s recruiting class, which will provide immediate replenishment. It remains to be seen how much replenishment this team will need in 2010.
Among the key performers on this year’s team are four seniors with no more eligibility – batting average leader Spenser Dennis, pitching ace Kane Holbrooks, reliever Tyler Brundridge and starting pitcher Zach Tritz.
The big league first-year player draft in June stands to take two more big bites out of the Bobcats.
Slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished his junior season batting .354 while setting single-season Texas State records with 18 homers and 88 RBI. He is draft eligible and very likely to attract a respectable pick. The question is whether a big league organization will offer enough signing bonus. Goldschmidt is running a 3.9 GPA in finance and would finish his degree if he returns for his senior season.
“I’m not really worried about that right now,” Goldschmidt said immediately after Saturday’s game.
Junior Ben Theriot stands to be an attractive package, a left-handed hitting catcher who batted .335 and allowed only six stolen bases in 25 attempts against him this season. He would be difficult to replace if he turns pro.
Junior outfielder/designated hitter Keith Prestridge is less likely than Goldschmidt or Theriot to go in the draft, but he batted .376 with seven homers and 51 RBI. Another junior less likely to leave is relief closer Michael Russo, who led the team this year with six saves.
“What these guys did for the university was tremendous and they deserve applause,” Harrington said. “We set a record for wins and were a two seed for a regional, which I still think we deserved. A lot of tremendous things helped us get to this point and it’s really and truly to the credit of the players.”
The Bobcats took a 1-0 lead in the first when Goldschmidt doubled and crossed on a single by Prestridge, who went to second on a throw home and took third on a throwing error by Army first baseman Kevin McHague with two out.
Texas State improved the lead to 2-0 in the third when Goldschmidt walked, moved to second on a ground ball and scored on Dennis’ single. Army scored in the third on a homer by Joey Henshaw, then tied the game, 2-2, in the fourth, when Kyle Fleming walked, moved to third on a hit batsman and a ground ball, then scored on Goldschmidt’s throwing error.
Texas State regained the lead with a run in the sixth. Jason Martinson tripled with one out and scored when Kyle Kubitza lined out to Army pitcher Ben Koenigsfeld, who made a throwing error. A double by Goldschmidt and a single by Dennis gave Texas State a 4-2 lead in the seventh.
Six outs from advancing as Army came to bat in the eighth against reliever Lance Loftin, the Bobcats simply didn’t have it in them. McHague grounded the first pitch to shortstop Martinson, who made a throwing error that allowed the batter to take second. Immediately, one out and nobody on turned into no out and a runner on second.
Two pitches later, J.P. Polchinski singled to right, driving in McHague to make it 4-3 while putting the tying run on base. A single by David Darnell one out later put runners at first and second. But Loftin walked JP Watkins on four pitches to load the bases, and the Bobcats suddenly were in real trouble.
Harrington replaced Loftin with Tyler Brundridge, hoping to end the horror. But Brundridge walked Zach Price on a full count, forcing in Polchinski with the tying run. Andy Ernesto flied to left for the second out, but it was deep enough to plate Darnell with a sacrifice, giving Army a 5-4 lead.
Clint Moore hit a ground ball to second baseman Kyle Livingstone, who momentarily bobbled the ball and couldn’t decide where to make a play. He ended up holding the ball, loading the bases. Then, Henshaw singled to right, driving in two more runs to make it 7-4.
“It was tough,” Goldschmidt said, “but I think we didn’t play well in either of these games. We didn’t put the game away when we were ahead like we were able to do this season. We missed some opportunities throughout the game.”
Worse, though, is that the Bobcats gave two opponents two days worth of opportunities. Their best hope is that they’ll learn enough to make more opportunities for themselves in the future.Email | Print