Everything was going smoothly at Starcke Park Wednesday night for the Seguin Internationals Juniors baseball team.
Then came the fourth inning.
Seguin seemed to have the District 31 West Zone championship game under control, scoring in each of the first four innings to take a 6-1 lead over New Braunfels White.
But the floodgates opened in the bottom of the fourth inning, with New Braunfels scoring seven runs on an endless parade of hits —and a controversial call in the sixth inning that killed a Seguin rally spelled defeat for coach Bubba Neumann’s squad, 8-6.
NB White had forced the winner-take-all game with a 12-6 win on Tuesday night, after Seguin had won the first game between the two teams last week, 11-10.
A win by Seguin on either Tuesday or Wednesday night would have advanced them to the District 31 championship.
“They’re a good team, they came back and beat us twice,” coach Neumann said after the game.
The coach lauded the team’s effort on Wednesday night, when he said the boys came focused and ready to play after taking the loss on Tuesday.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) we just went flat,” Neumann said. “So today when we were warming up I kind of left them alone, because I wanted to see where their heads were at. They were talking each other up, dialing in, and focused — but we came up a little short.
“I felt like we didn’t have any angels in the outfield today.”
Seguin came out hot on Wednesday, scoring one run in each of the first three innings, before a three-run fourth gave them the 6-1 lead.
RJ Ramos and Holt Haas started off the first inning with sharp singles, before Ramos was thrown out at third trying to advance on a passed ball. Haas moved over to third on a single by Cooper Neumann, and scored on a wide throw by New Braunfels for the final out at first, giving Seguin the 1-0 lead.
A close play at first, when the first baseman appeared to come off the bag for the catch, prevented another run from scoring.
New Braunfels came back with a run in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at 1-1.
In the second inning, Tim Belicek stroked a single to reach first and stole second on a pickoff attempt at first. Marshall Koenigsberg moved Belicek to third with a single, and Belicek scored two batters later for the 2-1 advantage.
Seguin prevented a run in the bottom of the inning with a great throw from Ramos to the catcher, Carlos Contreras, who made the tag on a sliding runner to get the out at the plate.
In the third, Klein Vickers reached on a single, before Neumann walked and Joe Casas singled to load the bases. Vickers came in on a hit by Contreras to put Seguin up 3-1.
In the bottom of the inning, Vickers got out of a bases loaded jam with no outs. A grounder back to Vickers led to a force out at home and the throw to first baseman Elijah Hicks by Contreras for the double play. Vickers struck out the next batter to get out of the inning.
“I told him yesterday to come tonight well prepared because we were going to put him on the hump and ride him out tonight,” Neumann said.
In the top of the fourth, Seguin increased the lead with three runs after Hicks and Evrin Contreras got on with successive singles and advanced to second and third on an errant throw to first.
Ramos singled again to drive in Hicks, and Evrin stole second to put runners on second and third again with one out. Vickers slow roller to short forced a hurried throw to first, and the two runners scored on the error for the 6-1 lead.
“Ramos, Cooper and Vickers have all been hot for us, they all have been hitting like crazy,” Neumann said. “Everybody that was in there did great and the starters especially came through when they were needed.”
Then came the bottom of the inning, and New Braunfels collected the seven runs on several successive hits to take the 8-6 lead.
“I stuck with Vickers because I’ve been burned in the past (by changing pitchers),” Neumann said. “The defensive side of things just wasn’t there (in the fourth), but he did a wonderful job.”
The controversy came in Seguin’s half of the sixth inning, when with runners at first and second and two outs, Neumann was hit by pitch to apparently load the bases.
But after a consultation between the home plate umpire and the field umpire, Neumann was called out for moving into the pitch. The call led to a 10-minute discussion between coach Neumann and the umpires, but to no avail.
“That call just killed us,” coach Neumann said. “To have that situation, with Cooper at the plate, it was exactly what you want. Any coach would love that situation because he’s been so hot for us — so for that to happen to him, he’s just crushed.”
It would be Seguin’s last serious threat to get back in the game.
For the game, Ramos, Vickers and Casas had three hits apiece and drove in four runs between them. Seguin outhit New Braunfels on the night, collecting 17 hits to 13 for NB White. Vickers and Ramos struck out nine batters on the night.
Coach Neumann has coached many of the kids since they began playing baseball, and as he won’t be coaching them next year when they move up to Seniors baseball, it was his last game to coach them.
He was understandably emotional after the loss.
“These kids have been a big part of my life — they’re my kids, my step kids, some of us have been together since they were 8 years old,” Neumann said. “I’ve tried to teach them to be respectful, to love the game and to put it in their heart. If it’s not in your heart you might as well do something else.
“If you love the game, you’ll come out here every day and sweat and break and bleed. You put all that effort into it, so you might as well love it.”
Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .