The end came at 10:41 pm, on a stiflingly muggy night that had sent all but the die-hards home to the comfort of air conditioning and a good night’s sleep.
Kevin Hussey grounded to short, and when first baseman Preston Springer squeezed the last out of the game, he also closed the book on the 2009 season for the East Texas Pump Jacks.
The Jacks suffered a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Coppell Copperheads Monday night at historic Driller Park, giving Coppell a two-game sweep in their first round playoff series. The Copperheads advance to the TCL Championship Series to take on the first-place Victoria Generals, who took out the Brazos Valley Bombers in the other playoff series.
The evening was a bittersweet one for the Pump Jacks organization, which was hopeful at the beginning of the game that the Jacks could pull out a win and extend the series to a third game. Though the game ended the season for East Texas, it was certainly a successful one that suggests better seasons are ahead.
The Pump Jacks finished second in the regular season standings with a 26-19 record with one tie, setting a franchise mark for wins. The Jacks reached the postseason for the second straight time, this season securing home-field advantage for the first time ever.
Matt Juengel became the second Pump Jack to win a major TCL award, taking home 2009 Freshman of the Year honors. Five players were named to the 2009 TCL All-League team, including Juengel, Brett Nicholas at catcher, Russell LaFleur in the outfield, Greg Fontenot at designated hitter, and David Rollins as the lefty starter. The five All-League players were more than any other team in the league.
Unfortunately for the Pump Jacks faithful, the Copperheads countered with an award winner of their own. Rhett Varner, the 2009 TCL Pitcher of the Year, sparkled against East Texas, giving up two hits over seven shutout innings. He walked two and struck out ten.
Coppell was first on the scoreboard, scoring two in the second off of Pump Jacks starter Mark Haynes. After an RBI single plated the first run, and the second scored when for Jack Adam De La Garza beat out a potential double-play ball.
The Copperheads upped the lead to 3-0 in the fifth on another RBI single. That spelled the end of the night for Haynes, who allowed three runs on six hits in 4.2 innings. The gutsy Haynes, a junior from Rice who pitched on heart all season long, walked three and struck out four.
Matt Click came on to close out the fifth inning and pitch a scoreless sixth. He got into trouble in the seventh, allowing a single and a one-out double to put runners at second and third with one out. A single to right scored one run, but Mike Petello fired a strike to home and Nicholas made a fine swipe tag to nail the speedy James Foster at the plate.
Click wound up with a run and four hits over two innings pitched.
Dusty Ross took over for Click and finished the seventh. He was replaced by Stephen Tromblee in the eighth when Andy Pratt was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame and made his way to third with two outs. Tromblee tossed a wild pitch that was retrieved by Nicholas and returned to the pitcher covering home, where Pratt was tagged out to end the inning.
When Tromblee walked the leadoff hitter in the ninth, Ian Schwalenberg took the hill to finish out the game.
Facing their final at-bat of the season, the Pump Jacks mustered some offense in the home half of the ninth. Juengel walked to lead off, then took second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball. A sharp grounder to short by Abel Gonzales scored Juengel and broke up the shutout. That was all East Texas could muster, though, and the Copperheads celebrated a 4-1 victory.
The series win by Coppell marks the second straight season the Copperheads have ousted the Pump Jacks in the playoffs.
The TCL Championship Series is next on tap for the Generals and Copperheads. The series will begin on Thursday in Coppell, then shift to Victoria for Game Two on Friday. If the series goes to a third game, it will be hosted by the Generals on Saturday.
In the meantime, the Pump Jacks will close the book on the 2009 season and begin looking at the 2010 season. Discussions have already begun to get personnel in place for next season, including several players who may return in 2010.
The Jacks are also expected to place season tickets for the 2010 season on sale soon, with “early bird” specials and other incentives to purchase or renew tickets.
Fans may follow all the off-season news and updates, including player signings and league expansion, on the Pump Jacks official web site, www.pumpjacksbaseball.com. Tickets and merchandise are also available throughout the off-season at the Pump Jacks office at 1100 Stone Road, Suite 120, in Kilgore, or by phone at (903) 218-GO ET.