MCKINNEY – The Lovejoy baseball team’s season ended with a double dose of heartbreak.
The Leopards saw Frisco Lone Star walk it off to erase a Lovejoy comeback for the second consecutive night, as an eight-inning, 8-7 victory sent the Rangers to their first regional semifinal and left the Leopards with nothing but what might have been.
After senior Graeme Williams led off the bottom of the eighth with a double, the knockout punch came from Lone Star junior Dylan De Leon. De Leon poked a soft grounder between the mound and Lovejoy senior first baseman Michael Difiore, and the Leopards flubbed the transition between Difiore and senior second baseman Luke Finn around the bag to allow Williams to scamper home and send the Rangers onward.
“He puts the ball in play, and I was just making sure I got to the next bag,” Williams said. “I saw the ball slip away, and I just took off. I knew we had it. We never quit fighting until the end. We’re going to keep punching.”
Though not without drama, the repeat walk-off effort, Lone Star head coach Joey Franke said, highlights his club’s resiliency.
“It is awesome. What’s special about this group is they never quit,” he said. “They never make it easy on us, but they never quit. They’re gritty, they’re tough, they’re coachable, they’re good kids, and we just hope to keep it going.”
Lovejoy head coach Jason Wilson praised his own side’s lack of quit, as well. Down 5-1 after one inning and 7-3 entering the visitors’ half of the seventh, the Leopards rattled off five hits and plated four runs, four of those knocks with two away, to extend their night.
A two-RBI triple from sophomore Ralph Rucker scored two to bring Lovejoy within a run before senior Colton Laurence brought him in with a single, though the furious rally would fall short of the Leopards’ first lead of the night in their eventual season-ending setback.
“They’re a good team. They played well and battled and did what they had to do to win some games,” Wilson said. “I’m really proud of my guys for how hard they fought both games. They kept coming back. Our backs were against the wall today, [and they] overcame adversity and battled back.”
As Wilson sees the careers of a large corps of seniors come to a close, the head coach said he’s grateful for the time he spent at the helm of the first class he’s guided through the program since taking over.
“That group is special. They’re always going to mean a lot to me,” he said. “That was the first class I had at Lovejoy when they started as freshmen. Four years with them has been really special. It’s been a great journey and a great ride, and I’m really proud of them.”
Williams started the game on the mound for Lone Star opposite Lovejoy senior Jacob Terwilliger, outdueling the Leopard starter with a five-inning, three-run effort. Juniors Ryan Ward and Austin Eaton went the rest of the way, with Eaton skirting danger in the top of the eighth to hand over the game to the offense.
That offense exploded early, hanging five runs on Terwilliger on five hits in the bottom of the first. The effort was highlighted by a two-run home run from senior Ryan Bogusz that gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, which was followed by a pair of RBIs from senior Luke Mabile and a bases-loaded balk to make it 5-1.
The lead held until the seventh, as lone runs from Lovejoy in the third and sixth and from Lone Star in the fifth and sixth got the game to its 7-3 score entering the wild events of the final two frames.
De Leon also tripled and scored a run in the sixth, while senior Dylan Clark and junior Austin Nairn each had a pair of hits. Terwilliger led Lovejoy with three hits and came around to score twice.
Lone Star will draw either Joshua or Corsicana in the regional semifinals as the Rangers continue the best postseason run in school history. Regardless of their opponent, Franke said his team will be ready to roll.
“We’ll take it one at a time and see what we can do,” he said. “We’ve got some kids that need to get some rest. Both Bogusz and De Leon threw a lot of pitches in their games, so they’re going to need some rest. We’ll see where we go from there.”
For continued coverage of the local sports scene, follow @TaylorRaglin on Twitter.