Things have gotten tighter for the Bushland Falcons as the playoffs have gone along, and no more than they were Saturday afternoon in the Class 3A region quarterfinal at jam packed Sandie Field.
So, it was appropriate that one guy who was getting his one last chance is the reason they’re still practicing next week.
With one out and two runners on base and trailing Idalou by two runs in the top of the seventh inning, Bushland’s lone senior, Josh Bass, stepped to the plate to keep things going. Since it was a one-game series, there would be no second chances.
Bass responded by belting a two-run double to left to tie the game, and one pitch later, Brecken Adams had an RBI single which bounced off second base, giving the Falcons the lead for good. Bass returned to the mound to shut the door in the bottom of the inning, capping a 5-3 win which put Bushland (28-3) into the region semifinal next week against Wall. That best-of-three series begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Lubbock-Cooper High School.
The Falcons were in the rare position of having to come from behind, as they trailed Idalou (20-5) 3-1 heading into the seventh and saw the possibility of their season ended after winning 15 straight games.
“It may sound like coach speak, but when we got back in the dugout right before we went to the last at-bat, I looked them in the eye, and I’m telling you, they just had this look like they were about to go do it,” Bushland coach Joel Love said. “I told them two to tie, or even better, three to win. They said ‘Three.’ They had really good at-bats to get guys on base.”
Bushland had only three hits up to that point, and none off Idalou left-handed reliever Tate Hendley, who walked two but hadn’t allowed a runner past second base in three innings. That streak ended on the first pitch of the seventh, when Cannon Melban singled to left.
Hendley struck out Ty Purcell and got an 0-2 count on Kade Gavina, but Gavina singled to left and one pitch later Max Rodriguez did the same to load the bases.
That brought up Bass, Bushland’s most experienced player who had one of the three hits for the Falcons before the seventh. It was the perfect script.
“The seventh inning you’ve just got to know that there’s a chance,” Bass said. “We’re not done yet. My determination of just winning this game helped me through that. Those last few innings I just knew that we had a chance to win.”
Bass hit Hendley’s 1-0 pitch for a double to left, scoring two runs and moving Rodriguez to third with the go-ahead run. Adams then hit the next pitch up the middle, and it took a fortuitous bounce off the second base bag, allowing Rodriguez to score the go-ahead run,
“You have to be up there and be ready,” Adams said. “You have to hit your pitch when you get it. I thought it was a hit, but (the bounce off second base) obviously helped. It was close but I knew we had the big guys to do it.”
Jaxon Fetsch grounded to short to drive in Bass with an insurance run, allowing Bass a bit of a cushion to record the final three outs in the bottom of the inning.
Bass struck out Hendley to start the frame, but Colton Hurst reached on an infield single on the next pitch to bring the tying run to the plate. However, Bass got Ethan Owens and Josh Koontz to fly out and end the game.
Take away three runs Bass gave up in the third, and It was a near perfect outing for Bass. He only struck out two, but didn’t walk any, making Love’s confidence in him pay off in a one-game playoff.
“We have some guys who have been pitching pretty good so I talked about it and brought them all in,” Love said. “I texted Josh one night and I asked him ‘Do you want the rock?’ and in all caps he said ‘Yes sir.’ I talked to the team and there wasn’t a kid who didn’t want him out there with the ball.”
Bass retired the first seven hitters he faced and had a 1-0 lead as the Falcons scored in the top of the second on Melban’s RBI single.
In the bottom of the third, Bass had his only poor inning n the mound. He gave up four singles that inning, as Jack Healey’s single tied the game, and Eric Garcia then hit a two-run single to give Idalou a 3-1 lead.
It stayed that way for three innings, but in the end, the Falcons, who won all 10 of their District 1-3A games via the 10-run mercy rule, showed they could win a close game. In fact, only one of their five victories in the playoffs has been a run rule.
“It just shows that we’re not complacent,” Bass said. “We battle with every team with the same intensity no matter how good they are or not.”