The East Texas Pump Jacks staked their claim to second place on Wednesday night in a wild, 10-9 win over the Brazos Valley Bombers at historic Driller Park. In a dramatic climax with Big 12 written all over it, Brett Nicholas lined a 3-2, two-out pitch through the left side with the bases loaded, scoring Ryan Oesterle and Greg Fontenot to win the game in walk-off fashion.
Nicholas, who is headed to Missouri in the fall, was facing Bombers star closer Joaquin Hinojosa, who will bleed maroon for Texas A&M next season.
The ninth-inning heroics resuscitated a crowd that saw the Bombers take a 9-8 lead in the top of the ninth inning. A two-out double by Casey Dykes off of Ian Schwalenberg scored a pair of runs and silenced Pump Jacks fans who were posed to celebrate clinching home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Instead, the crowd remained on the edge of their seats through a half-inning that was both tormented and thrilled. Hinojosa, who is tied for the league lead with Jacks closer Stephen Tromblee, was brought in to start the inning and promptly hit Jamie Niley. One out later, Oesterle reached on a bouncer that was mishandled by the third baseman. Fontenot followed with a fielder’s choice to short that cut down Niley at third. A walk to James Stanfield, his fifth free pass of the game, loaded the bases for Nicholas. The Pump Jacks catcher worked the count full, then on Hinojosa’s 34th pitch of the inning, Nicholas lined the offering between the shortstop and third baseman to score the tying and winning runs.
As if the tension of the final inning wasn’t enough, there were three people who didn’t see the game end: the Brazos Valley trio of head coach Brent Alumbaugh, starting center fielder Clifton Thomas, and pitcher Geoff Lomax. Each was ejected in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the pressure mounted and patience wore thin.
The implications of Wednesday’s game were significant. By clinching second place, the top two spots in the TCL standings are now locked down. The bottom of the standings, though, is still a quagmire. The Coppell Copperheads hold a slim half-game lead over the Bombers for third place. The Copperheads, who lost Wednesday to Victoria and play their last game of the season Thursday, can clinch third with a win and a Brazos Valley loss. The Bombers have three games remaining, including a pair against the Generals, so a win streak could vault them into third. Lurking in fifth place are the McKinney Marshals, who still have an outside shot at bumping off the Bombers and sliding into fourth.
The top four teams advance to the TCL playoffs, with first place taking on fourth place and second facing third. Game One is hosted by the lower seeds on Sunday, so the Jacks will open their series on the road. The higher seeds host Game Two, so the series shifts to historic Driller Park on Monday. If a decisive Game Three is necessary, it will take place Tuesday at Driller Park as well.
The winners of the first round series will meet in the TCL Championship Series later next week.
Early in Wednesday’s game, it looked like the Pump Jacks had second place in the bag. After the Bombers scored a run in the top of the first, the Jacks pushed across four in the bottom of the frame. Stanfield drew a one-out walk and Nicholas singled, then Matt Juengel singled home Stanfield to tie the score at 1-1. After a fielder’s choice erased Juengel and replaced him with Mike Petello, Kevin Hussey walked to load the bases. Jamie Niley followed with a bases-clearing double that put East Texas in control, 4-1.
The Bomber never gave up, though. They posted single runs in each of the first six innings, tying the game in the fourth and retaking the lead in the fifth. But the Pump Jacks had an answer in the home half of the fifth inning. Petello lined a one-out double down the left field line, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on an error by the catcher to tie the game. Hussey walked, Niley reached on another error, and Justin Snider was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A wild pitch brought home Hussey and gave the Jacks the lead yet again. Oesterle drove home Niley with a single to center, but Snider was nailed at the plate. Still, the Pump Jacks scored three in the inning and held a 7-5 lead after five innings.
The two teams traded runs in the sixth. After the Bombers cut the lead to 7-6, Stanfield walked and Nicholas singled. Juengel put down a sacrifice bunt and then beat the throw to first, loading the bases yet again. Petello launched a sacrifice fly to right that scored Stanfield to regain a two-run lead, 8-6.
The seventh inning was the only frame in the entire game in which neither team scored, but the Bombers returned to action in the eighth. One run closed the gap to 8-7, setting the stage of the drama of the ninth inning.
A game that features 19 runs, 21 hits, 16 walks, and eight errors is never going to be easy on pitchers. Mark Haynes got the start for the Jacks and battled through four innings, allowing five runs, three of them earned, on seven hits.
One of the new twins from Stephen F. Austin, Jared West, came on in the fifth inning. West went 1.2 innings and allowed one run, as did Jared Kernodle after him.
Tromblee took over in the eighth and went one-third of an inning before Schwalenberg rode in from the bullpen. Although he was pinned with a blown save for giving up two runs in the ninth, he still struck out three in 1.1 innings. When the Jacks completed the comeback in the bottom of the ninth, Schwalenberg (3-0) picked up the win.
It was a good night at the plate for the Jacks. No one reached base more often than Stanfield, who was 0-1 with two runs scored to go along with his five free passes. Nicholas led all hitters with a 3-for-6 night, scoring once and driving in two. Fontenot and Juengel also had two-hit nights, with Fontenot adding a pair of stolen bases. Both Petello and Hussey scored twice, and Niley drove in three.
The two teams return to action for the Pump Jacks regular season home finale on Thursday. The evening features a plethora of promotions and activities, including:
Tickets for Thursday night’s home finale and Monday’s playoff game are on sale now. Tickets may be purchased at the Pump Jacks office at 1100 Stone Road, Suite 120, in Kilgore, or by phone at (903) 218-GO ET. Tickets can also be purchased during games at the ticket office at historic Driller Park. And as always, tickets are available online – and they can be printed right at home – by visiting www.pumpjacksbaseball.com.
- Thirsty Thursday, when fans beat the heat with $1 draft beers and 50-cent soft drinks all night long.
- Water Bottle Giveaway Night, presented by Good Shepherd Medical Center and the Kilgore News Herald. The first 500 fans at Thursday’s game will receive a free water bottle featuring the Pump Jacks logo, a perfect way to show your team spirit at the gym, on your bike, or wherever you like!
- Cowboy Stadium Open House tickets, courtesy of Kilgore Ford. Fans will have a chance to win a pair of tickets to see the Cowboys new billion-dollar play land, including half-price concessions and free parking.
- American Idol contestant Brittany Stone will perform the National Anthem prior to the game.
- College Night, when all fans who show their college ID can purchase grandstand tickets for just $3.