Shrull: Baseball can be a cruel game
Expectations were satellite high for the Palisade Bulldogs going into the Class 4A district tournament.
Funny thing about baseball, it can be as unpredictable as high-country storms.
A hot pitcher, some key hits, a booted grounder — and that team that’s expected to contend for a title is sent home way too early. That’s what happened to the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Emotions and torment replaced expectations as the game came to a sudden halt with a tag-out at home. The cruel fickleness of baseball returned in the title game when Pueblo East played poorly and lost 9-0 to Durango.
The stunning 5-4 loss was even more agonizing considering the Bulldogs made an improbable and rather miraculous comeback to tie the game 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh.
Players shed tears and shared tight hugs with teammates and coaches as the harsh reality of the season’s end soaked in.
“This is the greatest team I’ve ever played on,” Cameron Campbell said. “I love these guys, every single one of them. I will miss them for sure.”
The hard-throwing lefty was spectacular in relief, striking out eight. As a junior, he has another year with the Bulldogs and expectations will again be soaring.
The three-run rally with two outs showed what kind of team the 17-3 Bulldogs were. Just like their namesake, this team was tenacious, loyal and fierce.
“We battled,” said senior catcher Caden Woods. “That’s what our team is about, we never give up. We’re family.”
Woods came up with the bases loaded in the seventh, and to the Palisade faithful, his teammates and coaches, it was no surprise when he came through in the most pressure-packed situation. It was his two-run single that tied the game.
Pueblo East was brilliant for six innings, making nearly every play. Pitcher Petey Martinez only allowed three hits and one run until the seventh. He also fielded a bunt and got the out at third to deter a possible big inning.
No Palisade player or coach used an excuse. They gave all of the credit to Pueblo East for the win.
But that doesn’t make the pain subside. Hopes and expectations were too high for them to simply push the memories of this game away.
“This is a special team, the seniors are special kids,” head coach Steve Moore said. “Baseball is baseball, and you have to give the other team credit. They beat us today.”
Senior Cody Higman had an amazing season. He was great early against Pueblo East, but then his velocity dropped and he struggled with his curveball. He had a blister on this finger, but he didn’t even mention it. This team isn’t about excuses.
“It’s been a great season. My teammates have been great,” he said.
The finality, the sudden finality of dreaming of a state title, then being told it’s time to pull off the Bulldog uniform for the last time, hadn’t sunk in for Higman after the game. He just shook his head.
He made the rounds to his teammates, spending time with the underclassmen.
“I told them, ‘Remember how this feels. You don’t want to feel like this again,’ ” he said.
Moore hopes his talented underclassmen remember, too.
“Maybe they will keep this game in the back of their minds,” he said. “It’s a bad taste.”
Then he glanced at his players as they were strolling away, dejected.
“I feel bad for the seniors,” he said.
For Campbell, it was upsetting that he gave up a couple of hits in the eighth and ultimately the single run that was the difference. But he, too, gave credit to Pueblo East for playing a good game.
“Everybody came together as a team and we rallied. It just sucks that we lost,” he said.
The Bulldogs are all about team.
Junior Troy Levinson broke free from a long hug and gathered his equipment, still looking stunned. His words emphatically summed up what the word “team” means to the Palisade Bulldogs.
“(The loss) doesn’t change a thing with this team. I love these guys,” he said. “We win together, and we lose together. They beat us today, but we played hard.”
Tenacious and fierce in their gallant comeback. Loyal, humble and gracious in defeat.
Bulldogs to the very end.