This Memorial Day weekend provided a memorable day for two West Texas baseball teams.
One had to lose, leaving the other to celebrate by pouring a cooler full of ice water over its pitcher's head.
After Anson answered the call in Game 2 of the Region I-2A semifinal series, beating New Home 4-2 to force a third game, the Leopards and Tigers battled like cats and ... well, cats ... in a three-plus-hour game that was 103 degrees at first pitch.
New Home pushed across seven runs in the second inning but needed a stellar grab by catcher Ryan Bundy in foul territory to hold for a 13-12 victory at Crutcher Scott Field at Abilene Christian University.
The win sends the Leopards, who won 11-6 Friday over No. 2 Anson and already dealt out defending state champion New Deal, to the regional final against Albany, which eliminated Clarendon 11-4 and 16-3.
Coaches praise the opponent
"That's a stinkin' good team," New Home coach Brady Webb said of Anson, which forced 14 innings of baseball to be played on a hot, windy day. "And I feel like we're stinkin' good. Both those games could've gone either way. They did a really good job in that first game. There wasn't one time I felt comfortable, even going back to stinkin' yesterday.
"They are very talented team, and a few things went our way."
Anson coach Scotty Nichols agreed
"That was two good teams battling it out," he said. "It's tough when you give up seven with walks and things we've haven't hung our hat on. Credit to our guys. They fought back. They were scratching a few runs across every inning. We'd get close and they'd score a couple and we made it hard on ourselves to get to the end there.
"I'm proud of the guys. It's going to hurt a little while but it has been a heck of a season."
New Home is only its seventh year playing baseball and second at the Class 2A level. However, the Leopards twice played in the state tournament in Class 1A.
Both teams lost to New Deal in the playoffs last year, New Home in the region quarterfinals and Anson in the final.
A tough day for pitchers
Game 3 was a showcase of what happens you get to a third game at the Class 2A level. Pitching thins.
After a scoreless first inning, the teams scored all 27 runs in the next five innings.
Anson finally got out of an inning without giving up a run in the sixth after leadoff hitter Victor Vitolas reached on error.
Down 13-10, the Tigers got two runs back in the bottom of the frame but with two on and no outs, could not get the tying run.
Anson had to save ace Trevor Miller, who had only 15 pitches left. He finally took the hill in the seventh inning.
And he didn't need all those pitches, despite a one-out single, to retire the side.
In the bottom of the inning, Max Hagler was hit by a pitch with one out and got to second on a wild pitch.
New Home had turned to Owen Morris, who hadn't pitched much this year, in the sixth inning.
"I was nervous going into it but I knew I had to go in and throw strikes. Just do my job," Morris said.
He got Stryker Dillard to fly out to shallow left field to get within an out of nailing down the win.
"I was confident going into the last at-bat. I knew my defense would back me up," he said.
That last batter was Dylyn Pyle, who lofted a foul ball that looked liked the wind would blow it out of play. But Bundy made the grab near his dugout and was mobbed by his teammates.
"That kid behind the plate did a great job. I know he was dog tired," Webb said. "He graduated last night. I get him up at 7:15 in the stinkin' morning and catches two games after he caught a game and graduated yesterday.
"I know he had a rough day because he was tired. But I'm glad he got that last out."
Bundy didn't even try to lie.
"I really couldn't find it in the air. I saw it at the last second and I barely made the play," he said of his game-ending catch. "I feels awesome."
Bundy also admitted he was gassed.
"I am tired," he said, his catcher's gear finally off for the day. "We toughed it out. We did what we had to do to get the win."
Anson couldn't recover from 2nd inning
It was a stinging loss for Anson, which fell behind 7-0 in the second inning but battled back.
New Home sent 12 batters to the plate in the inning without getting a big hit. However, five singles in a row kept the runs coming across the plate.
The Tigers had given up three walks and hit a batter to start the inning and had to make two pitching changes. Starter Blake Vinson, who had a 1-2-3- first inning, didn't get an out in the second before being lifted.
Nichols implored his team, with 18 outs to work with, to "take it one batter at a time."
The Tigers scored three in the second inning and that energized the Tigers, who scored in every inning after that except the deciding seventh.
"We got up by seven and that didn't even feel comfortable. I felt good about 7-0 but I didn't feel comfortable," said Wells, who acknowledged both teams were hitting the opposing pitching.
However, Tigers pitching kept giving up runs and Anson could not tie the game.
Ahead 8-4, New Home's Ashton Lucio drove a two-run home run to left field. The strong southerly wind had pushed around flyballs back toward the infield all afternoon but Lucio's shot – one of only two extra-base hits in the game – was aided by the wind.
A five-run Anson fourth cut New Home's lead to 10-9 but the Leopards got three more back in the fifth, a walk forcing a run home.
The Tigers scored got a run back in the fifth and two more in the seventh to make it a one-run game again.
Morris came on for New Home in the sixth with two runners on.
He walked Trevor Miller to load the bases. A wild pitch allowed Dillard to score and when Bundy's throw back to Morris went astray, Pyle scampered home to make it 13-12. But leaving two Tigers aboard proved fatal for Anson.
Morris worked out of trouble in the seventh and got the ice bath from his teammates.
"I'm glad our guys made plays when they needed to," Wells said.
Tigers evened series with Game 2 win
Game 3 overshadowed Anson's Game 2 win. Pitcher Nick Miller gave up a run in the first inning on Lucio's sacrifice fly but settled in to pitch zeroes on the scoreboard.
Anson could not score against Lucio, who started for the Leopards, until striking for three runs in the fifth inning.
The Tigers had a runner picked off third base, another runner thrown out at the plate by New Home right fielder Brady Brown and Logan Addison stab a line drive by Hagler to end an inning.
But three walks and two wild pitches aided Anson in the deciding fifth inning.
New Home got a run in the sixth but Trevor Miller's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning gave Anson a two-run lead again.
Nick Miller set down the side in order in the seventh to force Game 3.
It was only the third loss of the season for New Home, now 31-3 overall.
Bundy wasn't too tired to be thinking ahead.
"Now we've got to prepare for next week," he said of the series against Albany, which finished second in district play to Anson.
For Trevor Miller, a senior, it was the end of a good run.
"We knew this would be it. We had to put it all out on the field," he said after Game 3. "We don't quite easy, that's for sure."
Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Anson forces Game 3 but Tigers can't rally after falling behind 7-0