Of the 80 teams still alive in Texas' UIL baseball playoffs, none has experienced as wild a ride as the Class 4A Hallsville Bobcats.
With one game remaining in the regular season, they'd clinched a spot among District 13's four playoff teams. But Hallsville was judged guilty of using an ineligible player by its district executive committee and forced to forfeit enough games that would bump it below fourth place. Four days later, the Bobcats appealed to the state executive committee in Austin. The committee determined while the player was ineligible, school officials had done all they could to follow the rules based on information provided from the player's family. The forfeited victories were restored.
Two days later, Hallsville was back on the field in a playoff game. The fun was only beginning:
" Sophomore Justin Wingfield put the Bobcats ahead in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-run home run in a 4-2 first-round victory over Kilgore.
" Hallsville needed nine innings to defeat Midway (Waco) 2-1 in the area round. The Bobcats fell behind in the eighth but, with two out and nobody on, rallied to keep the game alive on hits by Christian Stringer and Austin Reich. In the ninth, Hallsville centerfielder Colten Roberts threw a runner out at the plate in the top of the inning, then doubled and scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning.
" In the third and final game of the Region II quarterfinals against Henderson last weekend, the Bobcats appeared in trouble after taking a two-run lead into the bottom of the seventh. Back-to-back Henderson hits combined with an overthrow by right fielder Cashe Jones allowed Henderson to score and put the tying run at first. But as the play continued, the runner got caught between first and second and was thrown out at second by Jones. Senior ace right-handed pitcher Trevor Petersen struck out the next two batters to end the game.
On Thursday, Hallsville (26-4) will make the nearly three-hour drive from northeast Texas to the Dallas suburb Mesquite to play the first regional semifinal baseball game in school history against McKinney North (McKinney).
"Like our superintendent told the kids after the appeal," coach Scott Mitchell said, "they have been given an opportunity to do something special."
Roberts said everyone was whoopin' and hollerin' after learning they were back in the playoffs. It was difficult to practice that afternoon with the assistant coaches, he said, while Mitchell made the five-hour drive back from the appeal hearing.
"We wanted to go celebrate," Roberts said. "We went out and celebrated with a practice."
Added Mitchell: "Kids are so resilient. They were emotional, had a second life, a second breath of air."
On the previous Friday, it was a much different scene after the district committee's ruling was reached in nearby Longview.
"It was a heartbreaker," Petersen said. "My heart just sunk. I don't ever want to feel like that again."
Petersen is a major reason why Hallsville got into the playoffs and has advanced through three rounds. He's 8-1 and has 27 strikeouts in 22 postseason innings. He has signed to play for Louisiana Tech.
"He's a true Texas pitcher," Mitchell said. "He's a classic tall right-hander at 6-3. Has great velocity -- 92 to 93 miles per hour. Great command of his pitches. Great composure. He does his job."
Petersen was a split second away from a decision that might have unwittingly ended Hallsville's season. He was playing first base in the second-round game against Midway when Roberts uncorked his throw from center that bounced once.
"I almost cut it off," Petersen said. "Saw it coming on a line."
Did his catcher call him off?
"I couldn't hear anything, so I must have decided on my own," he said.
While Peterson might not have heard his catcher, Roberts credits Hallsville's fundamentals for the game-saving play.
"It just becomes a habit," he said. "I couldn't let a run score in that situation. I gave it everything I had."
Three rounds of playoffs down, and potentially three rounds to go.
"It's been great," Petersen said. "Good pitching. Good hitting. It's pulled us through all season."
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.