Rebels headed to Sulphur after wild win
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, May 13, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
RESERVE — Riverside dug out of a 3-9 hole to begin the 2014 baseball season, ascending to become the third-seeded team in the Class 2A playoffs.
With that in mind, what then is a little four-run deficit in the state quarterfinals to these Rebels?
That too proved to be nothing they couldn’t handle. Mason Vicknair scored the game-winning run on a throwing error in the bottom of the eighth inning to propel the Rebels onward to the Class 2A state baseball tournament via an 8-7 home win over Runnels in a wild eight-inning game in Reserve.
Riverside advances to the Class 2A semifinals at McMurry Park in Sulphur to face No. 2 Kinder at 1 p.m. Friday.
Vicknair walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth. After T.J. St. Pierre bunted him over and Nick Delaneuville walked, Cameron Bivona came up to bat.
That’s when Vicknair took off to steal third; the throw from home to pick him off sailed into left field and Vicknair charged home — and his teammates out of the dugout for the walk-off victory.
Vicknair, the Rebels’ starting pitcher, ran for himself after drawing walks in each of his last two at-bats, not giving way to a courtesy runner.
“I told coach (Matt White) that if the game’s on the line, I want to be running,” said Vicknair.
Runnels (18-12) entered as the No. 22 seed after upsetting No. 11 Doyle and No. 6 Haynes en route to the quarterfinals.
Raiders coach Tookie Johnson said he never felt his team fit the role of a true underdog.
“People never gave us a chance, being the 22 seed, but I never felt like we were an underdog. We played a very tough schedule and lost a bunch of one-run games,” said Johnson. “No opponent was going to make us feel overwhelmed.”
Indeed, Runnels quickly proved to be a true contender to reach the state-tourney, taking a 2-0 first inning lead and soon a 7-3 advantage after a three-run fourth inning.
Riverside (20-9) did not help its own cause early in the field. All three fourth inning runs scored as result of errors, while a first inning error helped set up Runnels’ first score of the game.
“We made a bunch of errors, but I knew I needed to keep throwing strikes and our defense would start making plays,” said Vicknair.
Indeed, two standout defensive plays may well go down as what the Rebels and their supporters remember most about the day.
The first came in the seventh inning. With the bases loaded, two outs and Raider three-hole hitter Riggs March up to bat, RA catcher Delaneuville fired a throw to first baseman Drake Perret, picking off Parker LeBlanc to end the inning with the scored still tied 7-7.
Then in the top of the eighth, Rebels left fielder Jeremiah Berteau robbed Bobby Johnson of what would have been a solo home run, leaping at the wall to keep the fly ball in the yard.
“He’d been hitting them deep all day. I knew he’d probably have one for one of us,” said Berteau. “It was 100 percent timing. You’ve gotta make the jump right before (the ball clears).”
It was the second consecutive game Berteau made a flashy catch in the clutch, his diving stab of the ball in the seventh inning of the team’s quarterfinal win at St. Thomas Aquinas still fresh in everyone’s minds.
“I just heard the crowd going crazy,” he said.
Berteau, though, credited Delaneuville’s pickoff as the biggest momentum shift.
“We needed that badly,” he said. “To me, that was the turning point.”
Riverside began its comeback in the bottom of the fourth when Tyler Gauthier’s sacrifice fly scored Chase Wallace, who led off with a single. St. Pierre came through shortly after, his RBI single making it 7-5, and Riverside made it 7-6 when Runnels committed another throwing error to first. Brandon Hymel tied the game for Riverside in the fifth, his RBI double scoring Bivona after his leadoff walk.
A sacrifice fly by March and an RBI double by Johnson gave Runnels a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
Riverside fired back in its half, starting with a Vicknair triple that bounced off the top of the wall. The Rebels loaded the bases, scoring their first runs when Bivona was hit by a pitch, on a Chase Wallace RBI and on an errant throw to first on the play.
Runnels took a 4-3 lead in the second on back to back RBI doubles by LeBlanc and March, and stretched the lead to 7-3 in the fourth after back-to-back Rebel errors with two on.
“We were nervous. I won’t lie,” said Berteau. “But we also know what kind of baseball we could play. We knew we could turn things around.”
Hymel earned the win for Riverside in relief, retiring the lone two batters he faced. Vicknair went 7.1 innings, striking out four and allowing eight hits while walking five. He allowed seven runs, two of them earned.
Josh Sparks took the loss for Runnels. He walked five and struck out four over three innings.
Vicknair tripled and doubled in his only two official at-bats. He walked in each of his last three.
“He’s one of the hottest hitters I’ve ever coached in 20 years,” said White. “He’s been incredible.”
“At one point he had six home runs in maybe 15 at-bats. He’s unbelievable.”
The Rebels have now won 17 of their last 18 games, their 3-9 start all but a distant memory.
“We’ve talked about how it’s not about winning the first five, but the last five,” said White.
Added Vicknair: “We’ve got three down and two to go.”