Four runs in the sixth inning cap a comeback from a 3-0 early deficit as East Texas wins the 2012 TCL Championship.
The Pump Jacks were in first place for all but five days this summer. But they struggled down the stretch into the TCL Playoffs.
They had to come back from those struggles to re-focus against the top teams in the league in the TCL Playoffs. They had to come back from a 1-0 deficit in the TCL Championship Series against the Victoria Generals. And they had to come back from one last deficit, down 3-0 after the first inning.
They did all of that, beating the Victoria Generals 7-4 at Driller Park and claiming their first TCL Championship in ultra-dramatic fashion in front of the fans who have cheered for them all season long.
After falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first, the Pump Jacks pulled within one run in the third inning against Victoria starter Tyler Schnuriger. Louie Helmburg doubled to center field, beating a Generals defensive shift perfectly, and Kevin O’Leary followed with a double to right that scored Helmburg to get East Texas on the board. After a sacrifice bunt moved O’Leary to third, Tyler Sullivan came through with a bloop RBI single down the right field line to pull the Jacks within 3-2.
The score remained 3-2 as Schnuriger and reliever Jacob Lindgren held the fort. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Pump Jacks took the lead for good in a controversial and exciting half-inning of baseball.
Whitt Dorsey led off with a single, and was replaced on a fielder’s choice by R.J. Santigate at first. He later advanced to second on a passed ball. With a full count on him, Taylor Murphy then hit a fly ball to deep right field. Victoria right fielder Chad Kruse appeared to make a diving catch, but then the ball got away from him. A hustling Santigate kept on running, and scored the tying run on the play to make the score 3-3. The play was controversial, as the umpires initially ruled Murphy out on the play, but they reversed the call upon a discussion, drawing ire from the Generals’ dugout.
The inning would continue. Against reliever James Ferguson, Logan Preston worked a walk, and was replaced on a fielder’s choice from Justin Wall at first, a call that Victoria once again had issue with. With Murphy now on third and Wall on first, Helmburg worked a walk to load the bases. The Generals went to Dallas Ponder out of the bullpen, and that’s when the turning point of the game, and the series, took place.
O’Leary strode to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded, in a situation every baseball player dreams of. With a 1-1 count, the shortstop hit a slow grounder towards his counterpart Brandon Tierney. The Victoria shortstop threw low to first, with O’Leary beating the ball as it skipped past Patrick Duncan and went down the right field line. Murphy and Wall scored on the enormous hit, while Helmburg was able to score all the way from first on the throwing error, sliding in just under the tag of the catcher, and giving East Texas a 6-3 lead.
The seismic momentum shift in the frame would be exactly what the Pump Jacks needed. Victoria got a run back in the seventh, but the Pump Jacks got it right back in the eighth when Preston reached on an error and ended up scoring on another passed ball.
The Pump Jacks then turned the game, and the season, over to legendary closer Jason Jester in the ninth. The Hallsville native responded and rebounded from his previous outing to give the Pump Jacks their first TCL Championship in textbook Jester fashion, striking out the side as the celebration at Driller began in earnest.
The star of the game was O’Leary, who went 3-for-3 with three RBI, including the game-winning hit in the sixth in his finest night of the season. Every Pump Jacks starter except one had a hit in the contest, with Sullivan and Murphy adding key RBI, and Helmburg scoring two runs, but the only Jack without a hit- Wall- scored the winning run on O’Leary’s immensely important hit.
Another star for East Texas was Lindgren (3-5), who appeared in relief for the first time all year, and held the Generals hitless through 2.2 innings to get his third win of the summer and settle down the Pump Jacks after they had fallen behind early. He got the win, while Schnuriger (2-5) took the loss. Jester got his 20th save as well for the Pump Jacks, extending his all-time TCL single-season record and sending the fans home happy one last time.
It capped a memorable season in East Texas, which saw the team climb all the way to #7 in the nation and go an incredible 26-6 at historic Driller Park. The storybook conclusion is a fitting end to a winning summer.
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