The Sherman Bearcats did all they could in their final game of the season. They got the lights out performance on the mound from Harrison Key in usual turn on a Friday night. They got enough runs to end up with a victory in a match-up they knew they had to win to have a chance at the postseason.
But it was hard for Sherman to celebrate much after beating rival Denison, 3-1, on the the last night of District 5-5A action because the Bearcats didn’t get the help they needed to keep their season alive.
“Nobody ever has that speech. It’s hard when you take care of what you’re supposed to do,” Sherman head coach Justin Jennings said. “We split with the top three teams. We had one bad week and it ending up costing us the playoffs.”
Sherman (10-17, 6-6) finished tied with Denton Ryan for fourth place after the Raider topped Wichita Falls Rider 3-0. But Ryan swept the Bearcats two weeks ago and that gave them the tie-breaker for the final playoff spot. If Rider had won the last game and tied Sherman for fourth, the Bearcats would have had a winner-take-all contest.
Denison (17-11, 7-5) had clinched its postseason spot and was locked into the third seed with its victory over Sherman on Tuesday night. The Yellow Jackets will face Azle, the second-seed from District 6-5A, in a Class 5A Region I bi-district series later this week.
But it was still a frustrating end for the team’s best season since 2007. Denison left eight men in scoring position, including the bases loaded in the seventh as Trey Holtzclaw worked out of his own jam to save the victory.
Holtzclaw retired the side in order in the sixth but with one out in the seventh, Seth Thomas singled to right center, Wilson Kirkbride followed with a hit to center and Christian Ruebeck hit a chopper between the mound and third base that Sherman couldn’t make a play on.
But Holtzclaw struck out the cleanup hitter, Cayden Earnhart, and got Cam Wheeler to ground back to him to end the game.
“I’d have settled for a bloop. That was a killer for us,” Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said. “The whole key is, if we want to go deep in the playoffs, we have to execute. We have to have a purpose. We have to have a plan. In the playoffs, that would be a shame to have it end out season.”
Key gave Sherman a 3-1 lead in the sixth with an RBI single and some heads up base running by D.J. Hester, who walked to start the inning. Blake Steele laid down a sacrifice and Denison didn’t cover third so Hester continued on to the bag. A strikeout put the Jackets in position to keep it just a one-run game but Key came through with a hard smash to third.
The Bearcats had taken a 1-0 lead in the third when Key walked on a full count and courtesy runner Garrett Browder went to second on a wild pitch. Carson Auten dropped a fly ball in front of the left-center wall and Sherman had runners at second and third.
Garrett Maxwell hit Ben Cross to load the bases and Ruebeck came on in relief. His first pitch went to the backstop and Browder scampered home.
The following inning Ryan Ortiz had a one-out single to left and Key doubled to right. Ruebeck nearly got out of it but Ortiz scored on a wild pitch.
Sherman made a bid for the early lead in the top of the first when Nick Blankenship led off with a single and Tate Bethel walked with one out. They both moved up on a groundout and Auten made a diving catch in center to rob Blaise Bentsen from giving the Bearcats a 2-0 lead.
The Jackets had a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings against Key before finally pushing a run across in the fifth. Thomas led off with a single and went to third on an errant pickoff throw. Wilson Kirkbride walked but was erased trying to steal. Thomas ended up scoring on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Up to that point the right-hander had worked out of trouble. In the first, Wilson Kirkbride walked with one out and Ruebeck reached on an error. Bethel ended the inning when he climbed the ladder at short to rob Earnhart of a hit and then turn the double play at second.
Dalton Souther had a one-out single in the second and moved up on a wild pitch but was stranded there and Key worked around a two-out infield single by Wilson Kirkbride, a walk to Ruebeck and a wild pitch that put both in scoring position.
In the fourth he quelled another two-out rally after Austin Emery singled to left and Auten was hit by a pitch by getting Luke Kirkbride to ground out to short on an extremely close play at first.
“Harrison has been phenomenal the last four weeks,” Jennings said. “That’s just how he’s been. If we got one run that’d be enough.”