The Unicorns clinched a playoff berth Friday night at home during a game that’s sure to go down as one of the most bizarre, dramatic and electrifying of the entire 2019 baseball season.
New Braunfels (16-11-1, 9-2) fought back from multiple deficits to upend Clemens 9-8 in walk-off fashion. Head coach Bobby Alford’s team entered its final round of at-bats trailing by two, but an RBI triple from Hayden Kesselring pulled the Unicorns within one and set the stage for a truly memorable finish.
An error by the Buffaloes allowed Kesselring and Josh Butcher to motor into scoring position for Garrett Thompson, who delivered a game-winning two-run double to left field. Once Butcher slid home safely, New Braunfels’ dugout exploded as the celebration poured onto the field.
“I was so in shock, just sprinting around with my team all crazy — like a chicken with its head cut off,” Kesselring said of his reaction.
When Thompson strode to the plate for his final at-bat, Alford said the initial plan was for him to lay down a safety squeeze to try and tie the game. His bunt attempt was fouled straight back, and Alford quickly altered his strategy on the fly.
“I think I’ve called five or six bunts this year,” Alford said. “And every time we do that and don’t get it down, we end up hitting a double or a triple.”
On the next pitch he saw, Thompson, who bats from the left side of the plate, was able to shoot a line drive to the opposite field to cap a stellar 3-for-4 outing from the plate.
“I got a ball that I could put a barrel on and I just made it happen,” Thompson said. “Don’t put the credit all on me — it was a team effort. We were together the whole way.”
The contest featured more than a few questionable calls from the umpiring crew on the field, which only added to the intensity of the District 26-6A rematch. Clemens (10-16-1, 4-7) dropped Tuesday’s series opener 7-3 to New Braunfels in Schertz and came into Friday’s game in serious need of a split.
The Unicorns vaulted ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by Will Tillman, but the Buffaloes’ bats soon began to stir against New Braunfels starter Braden Fox. After Bryson Dyer scampered home on a double steal to put the Unicorns up 2-1 in the second, Clemens struck for three runs in the third thanks to an RBI triple by Andrew Edwards and a two-RBI double from Noah Hamel.
New Braunfels trimmed its deficit to one in the bottom half of the frame when Pierce Beckmann sprinted home as Marcos Franjul got caught up in a rundown. Franjul looked to be out trying to slide back to first, but a lob of a throw hit the dirt for a costly error.
The Buffs came right back to build a 7-3 edge after tacking on one run in the fifth and two in the sixth, but the Unicorns answered immediately with three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
After loading the bases with nobody out and chasing Clemens starter Parker Thomas, Ryan Woodward was hit by a pitch to bring home a run. Two batters later, Justin McDonald posted an RBI fielder’s choice to plate Adam Wuensch, and Woodward quickly joined him when the Buffs’ first baseman lost the ball and went down with an apparent leg injury.
With New Braunfels now trailing just 7-6, all it needed was a clean top of the seventh to keep the momentum flowing, but a botched call on an attempted steal of third turned the final out of the frame into a second chance for Clemens. The Buffaloes took advantage and added an insurance run on an RBI single to left field by Gary Wafford.
Undeterred, the Unicorns went right back to work in the bottom of the seventh and engineered the most thrilling rally of the year.
“I remember Coach Alford said in the second inning when we were down, ‘We’re going to win this game,’” Thompson said. “We believed in it.”
In today’s era of increased specialization for young athletes, Alford said he was proud to see multi-sport performers like Franjul, Kesselring and Thompson get the job done.
“I love guys that play football and baseball because it gives them an edge,” Alford said. “The moment never becomes too big because we play Judson, we play Steele and we play Clemens in football — and it’s tough. Every snap is tough.
“You have to be tough to play this game. That’s the bottom line.”
New Braunfels was also able to secure a series sweep of Clemens due to the efforts of southpaw Myles Miller, who turned in a strong relief effort. The junior worked the final 2 2/3 innings, allowed one earned run on two hits while striking out three and was ultimately rewarded with the victory.
Thompson and McDonald each posted two RBIs on the night, while Kesslering, Woodward and Tillman drove in one run. The Unicorns won despite being outhit 8-7 in the contest.
New Braunfels’ district title hopes are still alive, as Alford’s team trails East Central (10-1 in 26-6A) by one game with three left to play in the regular season. The Unicorns will open a key two-game series against Smithson Valley Tuesday night at home at 7 p.m.