CARY, N.C. – The rally caps were on, desperation setting in. This, the Rattlers have come to learn, are when they’re at their best.
But unlike every other comeback attempt during their championship-chasing run, Wednesday’s didn’t end with St. Mary’s celebrating.
The No. 1-ranked Rattlers scored a pair of runs in the ninth inning to claw closer from a one-time four-run deficit, but fell just short in a 5-4 loss to No. 4 Catawba at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
St. Mary’s left the tying run at first base – one of six stranded runners over the final three innings – as it was eliminated in the third round from the NCAA Division II College World Series.
“We ran out of time,” catcher M.P. Cokinos (Jr., Houston) said afterward. “There’s only nine innings. That’s baseball.”
Indeed. For all the dog-pile celebrations, championship trophies and All-America honors, the game also occasionally deals moments like these.
Tears were shed, hugs exchanged in the dugout after the game. Seniors like Esteban Raygoza (San Antonio) and Tyler Migl (San Antonio) wandered about the dugout, trading handshakes and bear hugs with solitary moments where they reflected on the remarkable careers they were leaving behind.
And what a ride it’s been.
Though the Rattlers’ (49-11) season ended short of their stated national-championship goals, a lost season it was not. They claimed the South Central Regional championship for the first time since winning it all back in 2001, and won their third straight Heartland crown along the way. Their 49 wins marked the second-most in program history behind the 50 they won in ’01, and their efforts won them a slew of awards.
Chief among them were the Daktronics National Pitcher of the Year honor bestowed upon ace Carl O’Neal (Jr., San Antonio), who was one of three All-America selections on the team (Cokinos and Rene Solis being the others). Coach Charlie Migl also was named the National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
But none of that was on the Rattlers’ collective minds as they attempted one more comeback Wednesday evening.
Having come from behind in every victory at regionals, including once in walk-off fashion, the Rattlers have come to believe no comeback is too large.
Even on a night like this, when they were being one-hit going into the ninth inning.
St. Mary’s steadily climbed back from a 5-1 deficit to make it a game, but it was the runs they didn’t score that stayed on their mind in the moments afterward.
Catawba plunked three straight batters on successive pitches to start the seventh, priming the Rattlers for another comeback. But St. Mary’s got just one run out of the inning, as Billy Richard (Jr., Schertz, Texas) walked to bring in Raygoza to cut the deficit to 5-2.
After stranding three in the seventh, St. Mary’s left two more on the bases in the eighth, adding to their frustrations.
But the Rattlers weren’t done.
Josh McElroy (Sr., Helotes, Texas) walked to lead off the inning, and Mario Maldonado (Fr., Laredo, Texas) doubled to left-center field to put two runners in scoring position. Later, Derek Moczygemba (Jr., Bulverde, Texas) drove in a run on a groundout, slicing the deficit to 5-3.
Cokinos then made it 5-4 on a single to right-center, giving the Rattlers hope that another comeback was in the works.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The clutch hit the Rattlers seemingly always deliver wasn’t there, as Catawba recorded the final out to end the Rattlers’ rally and their season.
Skye Severns (Sr., Claremont, Calif.) was dealt his first loss of the season, falling to 9-1 after yielding four runs in two innings. Reliever Kyle Bumpas (So., El Paso, Texas) struck out eight in relief.
“This is a special bunch of guys,” coach Charlie Migl said. “We just came up a little short.”
He added: “Our team always gives us an opportunity to win. Even though we were being one-hit, we were down 5-4 with a guy on base. We put ourselves in position to maybe win.
“That’s all you can ask in the game of baseball.”