San Antonio – The number 11 can now be considered a lucky one thanks to the Rattlers’ performance Friday.
The No. 8-ranked St. Mary’s baseball team headed into the doubleheader against Panhandle State an undefeated Heartland Conference team and came out the same way with ace Carl O’Neal (Jr., San Antonio) pitching a one-hit shutout and stacking 11 strikeouts in a 2-0 victory to open up the series.
Game Two saw a reappearance of the number 11 with the Rattlers (12-2, 11-0 in conference) slugging 11 runs off 14 hits to run-rule the Aggies (0-11, 0-8 in conference) and end the night early with an 11-1 victory that was cut short at seven innings.
“Coach (Charlie) Migl always says it’s setting the tone for the rest of the pitchers,” says O’Neal of his role as top ace with a 0.73 ERA on the season. “We’re already doing so great (this season) and you just get that first game in and everyone thinks, ‘This isn’t going to be that bad.’ So I just try to set the tone.”
And O’Neal sent a heat wave Friday.
After two strikeouts in the second, O’Neal faced a game changer with the bases loaded with the Aggies looking to gain the lead in the third. But he wore the ace title rightfully and caught a potential RBI maker swinging hard at the air to end the inning.
O’Neal kept the ball on fire striking out five straight over the fifth and sixth innings, with half caught looking. In his final stance at the mound, O’Neal struck out the Aggies’ leadoff man and ended the game fittingly for his fourth win of the season by forcing a batter down swinging to silence a comeback.
“I tried to really, really get in there,” says O’Neal, who brought his total strikeouts to 27 Friday. “So that’s why I came in there just trying to throw strikes and I got ahead, which allowed me to try and strike them out. It’s not letting them get on base without earning it.”
The Aggies’ pitcher saw a triple from M.P. Cokinos (Jr., Houston) that put him in scoring position for Brandon Bates (Jr., Boerne, Texas) to knock him home in the fourth inning for the first run of the game. Batting through the lineup, Cokinos earned an RBI for the Rattlers’ final run in the fifth. Ivan Sigala (Jr., El Paso, Texas) smashed two of the team’s four total hits.
But Game One wasn’t Cokinos’ and the rest of the Rattlers’ only showing.
“I just wanted to come here and make a difference,” says Cokinos, the team’s leader in RBIs. “But St. Mary’s has a tradition of winning. And the coaches prepare us everyday to be the best players we can be.”
Game Two of Friday’s doubleheader proved Game One was just a warm-up as the Rattlers rallied for 14 hits to light up the scoreboard with 11 runs – and Cokinos leading the way with three RBIs.
His first came off a sacrifice fly in the third that also saw RBIs from Bates and Esteban Raygoza (Sr., San Antonio), who wears jersey No. 11. The three-run inning set the tone for the six-run inning to follow. The Rattlers blew up the plate in the fourth, with Cokinos jumpstarting the rally with a single for two RBIs. A double from Raygoza brought in another while Derek Moczygemba (Jr., Bulverde, Texas) and Mario Maldonado (Fr. Laredo, Texas) brought in two apiece.
Strong arms Billy Richard (RS-Jr., Schertz, Texas) and Raygoza worked the plate for three hits each with Bates and Maldonado coming away with two.
“All day everyday all around, we’re all trying to get better as players, and of course win,” Cokinos said. “(Our) coaches all work really well with us in preparing us for certain situations and the whole lineup has really come out and done their jobs.”
The Rattlers will get their bats swinging Saturday for the final game in the three-game series against Panhandle State at Wolff Stadium at 1 p.m.