Warrensburg, Mo. – A game, a season and their careers on the line.
In their last efforts, as in their last at-bat of the game, the Rattlers had just a few digs left to pull over a lead on Southern Arkansas after falling in a 2-0 hole – only to pull out the beast and tie the game up, 2-2, with a smashing homer from Billy Richard (Jr., Schertz, Texas) in the eighth.
As frustration and intensity ran high because a loss would put St. Mary’s in the loser’s bracket and threaten the end of its season and the shot at the national title, the action-filled comeback was all routine for seniors Esteban Raygoza (San Antonio) and Josh McElroy (Helotes, Texas).
Defining clutch, Raygoza’s leadoff double in the ninth inning helped carry the Rattlers to the late-night win over the Muleriders that then helped seal their trip to the third round of the NCAA Division II semifinals.
St. Mary’s (46-8) and St. Edward’s (37-14) play at 11 a.m. today for a shot to advance to tomorrow’s championship round.
“We just kept calm and cool,” says Raygoza, who scored the go-ahead run in the ninth, “and we knew our bats were going to come through.”
Raygoza’s steady hands were the ones that plummeted the double that fired up the Rattlers’ turnaround game.
Reaching third off a single from Ivan Sigala (Jr., El Paso, Texas), Raygoza’s 6-foot-5 frame lingered just 90 feet from home and a few paces away from deleting the tied ballgame, stacking pressure on the veteran McElroy.
Seasoned throughout the year as St. Mary’s two-hole and usual go-to-guy for the slap bunt, McElroy found himself in a familiar scenario – only this time in the eight-hole with the go-ahead run on third in a test of the region’s most deserving for the title.
“I just wanted to do something for the team,” says McElroy, the Rattlers’ starting right fielder, “and help the team and get that run across. Getting the bunt down was my main goal.”
McElroy’s bunt down the first-base line was enough to bring home Raygoza and put the Rattlers in the lead for the first time in the ballgame, forcing the rowdy Rattler bench to be ushered back into the dugout.
The emotional extreme from frustration to triumph kept the Rattlers’ hope for the regional title alive, as well as allowing two clutch seniors to savor every extra moment of their careers.
“I feel like this year everyone’s come together as a team,” says McElroy, who has 11 sacrifice bunts on the season. “We’re all working for the same goal and we’re going to keep doing everything we can to get to the national championship.”
That chase continues today.