As Burnet High School head baseball coach Russell Houston observed game three of a bi-district series between his Bulldogs and La Grange May 7, he gave a prediction to his assistants of the way the contest would play out.
“The first team that scores first will win,” he said.
Houston was right. The Leopards (19-10, 8-2 District 20-4A co-district champions) scored the only run it needed, in the eighth inning on an RBI single to left field. The lead-off batter got on thanks to a single and the next batter laid down a bunt to move the runner to second.
“We played 22 innings of high school baseball and gave up four total runs and lost two out of three games,” Houston said. “We didn’t make mistakes, we just got beat. We played really well. I think we struck out one time Saturday. We hit the ball, we just hit the ball right at them, and they made plays.”
Each pitcher matched each other throw for throw: Burnet’s (12-15-1, 7-8 District 19-4 third place) Ralston Vance threw 18 first-pitch strikes, while La Grange’s Chase Krnaek threw 17. Vance had six strikeouts to Krnaek’s one.
“We pitched really well,” Houston said. “Ralston threw great. We didn’t get the timely hits. We stranded maybe four or five. And (Krnaek) didn’t walk very many kids. We hit everything right at them.”
After the Bulldogs’ 8-0 first-game win, Houston told the Bulldogs to prepare to get La Grange’s best in the second game.
“They’re going to come out with tons of energy,” he recalled saying. “They’re playing for their season, and they’re playing for their lives.”
That second game, a 3-0 La Grange victory, was highlighted by a strong pitching performance from Trenton Barnes, who threw a no-hitter and gave up only one walk in six innings. The Leopards scored all the runs they needed in the first inning.
Those strong pitching performances carried over to the third game.
“We never could get going,” Russell said. “Hits are contagious. In game one we hit the ball really well right off the bat. ”
Though the season ended earlier than they wanted, Houston said he feels nothing but pride as he thought about all the Bulldogs accomplished. They won three district series to finish third to qualify for the playoffs, which ended an eight-year postseason drought. When they won game one May 6, it ended a decade-long drought of not earning a playoff win.
“I am so proud of the kids from where we started and came from,” he said. “There’s so much growth, and I’m so proud of them from where they were. We were consistent in everything we did. We won baseball games that people didn’t think we could win. We played clean and gutsy baseball. Our kids played calm, and they were expecting to win and do great things.”
Most coaches believe that success in one sport has a trickle effect on the others. Houston pointed out the success of the Lady Dawgs in volleyball where the team was a Class 4A Region III semifinalist, in basketball where they were the Class 4A Region III finalist, and in soccer where they were a Class 4A Region III semifinalist as proof.
“Winning breeds winning,” Houston said. “It’s some of the same kids. And it’s expectation — they see the others did it, so they think ‘why can’t we?’ It tends to roll into cycles like that. I do think those kids who play both sports will take that over there. They know what it takes to get in the playoffs, they know the work ethic, and they believe they can do it. It’ll have carryover into the fall.”
The coach noted the seniors have left the program better than they found it, and not all of them got to play as much as they wanted. But to their credit, each Bulldog embraced his role for the betterment of the team, Houston added.
“The kids have put in a bunch of work,” he said. “I felt bad for our seniors because of the way (the season) ended. I was so proud of our seniors because of the way they worked. We had six seniors on the team. They came in with great attitudes. Those guys were vital to the success we had. All those things have to go into effect to have a great and successful season. I have great respect for those kids.”
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