With nothing on the line except hometown pride, Sherman and playoff-bound Denison proceeded to play for that — and then some — Friday night at Sherman’s Veterans Field.
Seven innings weren’t enough to decide a winner between the two rivals, and neither were eight innings.
Finally, in the bottom of the ninth — three and a half hours after the game started — senior Richy Clark ended his high school baseball career in heroic fashion with a walk-off single, giving the Bearcats a 9-8 win against the Yellow Jackets and avoiding a season sweep by their neighbors up north.
Sherman (11-16, 5-10) won a game in which it committed four first-inning errors, blew a four-run lead after dropping a boxcar in the bottom of the sixth to go in front, and tied it on essentially a Little League play in the bottom of the seventh.
“It was probably the craziest inning and a half I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sherman head coach Justin Jennings said. “It could’ve easily went south when (Denison) scored the five (in the top of the seventh), but it didn’t and we kept battling.”
Ethan Bedgood led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk off Denison reliever Coulter Maxson, and later Hunter Stephens was hit by a pitch and Blake Steele walked, loading the bases and setting up Clark’s sharp grounder up the middle past a diving Christian Ruebeck to score Bedgood and give Sherman a reason to smile going into the offseason.
It was the second time in the game Clark had come up with a big hit, as he had blooped a single inches fair down the right field line to put the Bearcats briefly on top in the sixth.
“That’s the perfect scenario, a senior getting an opportunity to get that done and win the ballgame,” Jennings said.
But the contribution of sophomore Tate Bethel also made a big impact overall. Bethel delivered a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning and gutted out 3 2/3 rocky innings of relief to pick up the victory on the mound.
Bethel was in line for the win after six with a four-run edge, but a half-inning later was in line for the loss. However, he posted goose eggs the following two innings and picked up a dub anyhow.
“I told him from the dugout, it’s yours to win or lose,” Jennings said. “He knew that and got lost in the situation early— probably had a little too much adrenaline going and didn’t execute.”
Sherman starter Colton West, one of eight seniors honored before Friday night’s game and nine total, shrugged off a first inning in which his backing defense booted the ball four times.
West went the first 5 1/3 innings and held Denison to three runs — one earned — on three singles. The Bearcats got it out of their system in the initial stanza and played miscue-free defense the final eight innings.
Already down a catcher with Cayden Earnhart’s concussion earlier in the week, the Yellow Jackets lost another one at the end of the first inning when Logan Tilley tripped at first base running out a grounder and suffered a lower body injury, leaving the game. Shortstop Luke Kirkbride had to take over behind the plate, with Oklahoma signee Ruebeck moving from second base to shortstop and Maxson subbing in Tilley’s spot in the batting order.
“Nothing appears to be broken, that’s all we know right now,” Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said of Tilley. “He’ll be evaluated and we’ll see on that.”
Bollinger added that he expects Earnhart to be cleared to return in time for a Class 5A Region II bi-district playoff series against Frisco Lone Star at McKinney Boyd. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. on Thursday; Game 2 is 7 p.m. on Friday and Game 3 is at noon on Saturday.
After Cam Wheeler greeted reliever Bethel by stealing home to put the Jackets up 3-1 in the top of the sixth after Bethel had picked Maxson off first, the dormant Bearcat offense finally stirred.
Loading the bases on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, Sherman tied it at 3 as an attempted double play which would’ve ended the inning went awry on the relay to first. Clark followed with his bloop hit to give the Bearcats the lead, and then after the Cats juiced the sacks again, Bethel cleared them with a deep double over Denison center fielder Wheeler’s head to the batter’s eye for a 7-3 advantage.
“Our pitchers were a little off and fell behind in counts and gave them free bases, and we didn’t have our starting catcher back there so that hurt,” Bollinger said. “We had some guys playing different positions.”
Not to be outdone, the Jackets answered that with five runs of their own off Bethel in the top of the seventh, with three hits, three walks, a hit batsman and a wild pitch. Maxson dropped a Texas Leaguer into short center for two runs to knot the ledger, and Jack Condit singled to right to reclaim the upper hand for Denison.
But the Bearcats worked their magic to extend the game in the home half of the frame. Bedgood walked to lead off the inning, and scored from first on one crazy play. Bedgood took second on a wild pitch, sprinted for third as nobody was covering the bag and scored from there as a throw toward third went to nobody, sending the game to extra innings ultimately.
Condit, Maxson and Garrett Maxwell all had two hits for the Jackets (15-15, 8-7).
While losing a rivalry game stings somewhat for Denison, the Jackets have almost a full week to shrug off the loss and sharpen their barbs for the postseason ahead.
“We got some guys some work on the mound, which is what we needed to do because we’ve got a long time until we play next week,” Bollinger said. “(The game) didn’t mean anything and it was kind of a tune-up, and now we can erase it. Now we’re back to 0-0 and can go from there.”
Meanwhile, the Bearcats will miss their graduating seniors next year. While Bedgood will be back for his senior season behind the plate and Bethel has two more years left, there will be lots of fresh faces on the diamond as Sherman plays its final season at the Vet in 2020 before moving to its planned new on-campus digs in 2021.
“It’s going to be a big rebuilding year next year,” Jennings said. “We’ve got some good young kids, but we’re losing nine … and those nine have played a considerable amount of baseball for us over the past four years.”