The baseball team fell 5-6 to conference rival UT Tyler in the ASC tournament championship game on May 9 to cap off its series of post-season close finishes.
The Comets started off their tournament run with a 7-8 loss to East Texas Baptist University on May 6. This put the team in a position where it would have to win out the rest of its games if it wanted to take home a conference crown.
Head coach Shane Shewmake said the players were discouraged, but knew they had a chance to win going forward after that first loss.
“If we just kept playing our game, we’d have a chance to do some things,” he said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they just kept battling and playing and you look up and we’re playing in the championship game four games later.”
The team bounced back the next day by stomping Hardin-Simmons 13-5, setting up a 1 pm match up against LeTourneau on May 8.
Earlier in the season, the teams series against the Yellow Jackets had been cancelled due to inclement weather. Shewmake said the two teams didn’t know each other very well because of this.
This lack of familiarity showed in the tournament matchup as the Comets trailed 5-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth . Junior infielder Jimmy Norris sent in a 2-RBI double to cut the lead down to two runs, but UTD had already picked up two outs.
With two runners on base, junior infielder Brandon George, who led the team with six homers on the season coming into the game, headed to the plate.
George said he had been struggling to hit all day but he said he was ready to do whatever he could do as he got ready to bat. On his first pitch, he belted it out of the park to seal a 6-5 Comets victory.
George said it was the highlight of his athletic career.
“I was watching the ball go through the air,” he said. “I’m screaming at the ball, telling it to get out of here. Everybody else is screaming. It’s pretty cliche, but you see the ball in the air and you’re telling it everything in your vocabulary to get out of the field so I can run around and touch the bases and win the game.”
He said seeing the whole team waiting to surround him at home plate is hard to describe.
“It’s an awesome individual accomplishment, but it means so much more to everybody else than you even imagine,” George said. “As far as that goes, it’s an indescribable feeling.”
Later that day, the Comets took on ETBU once again in a game plagued by weather delays. Due to lightning in the area, the contest didn’t start until 11:30 p.m. UTD was able to hold off the Tigers for a 5-4 victory, but the game didn’t end until around 3 a.m.
On May 9, the team took the field at noon against tournament host Concordia, who were the fifteenth ranked team in the nation. Shewmake said the team was going on about five hours of sleep headed into the contest.
Despite the odds that were stacked against them, the Comets picked up five runs in the third inning. The Tornados came battling back in the bottom of the seventh with four runs of their own, but they couldn’t stop UTD from picking up four more runs in the last two innings to take down Concordia 9-8.
Shewmake said he was impressed at how the team responded to the situation it faced with the weather delay.
“The weather, it just puts a kink in everything,” he said. “You just have to play around it. When they tell you it’s time to play, you just go strap it on and play. The kids did that and they could have rolled over at any point and just said, ‘You know what? We tried.’ But they just kept going. It was unbelievable.”
The Comets then faced #24 UT Tyler in the championship game later that same day. Even though UTD got out to an early 4-1 lead, the Comets couldn’t stop the Patriots from picking up five more runs to clinch the game and tournament title.
Shewmake said the team was only a few plays away from changing the outcome of the game.
“In the ninth inning, we got the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first and couldn’t get the hit right there,” he said. “Again, we gave ourselves a chance against a very good team … We battled them for nine innings and had a chance to win it late and it just didn’t go our way this time.”
With a majority of the team returning next year, UTD will be looking to make another post-season run in the spring. George said he is excited about the possibilities for next season.
“We’re real deep in position players and we’ve got some good pitchers coming back,” he said. “I think that we’re already a pretty strong team and definitely a team that the ASC is going to have to look out for. The goal for us this summer and fall is just to stay together and work on playing together as a team … I think next year is going to be a big year for us. As long as we stay at it and play UT Dallas baseball, I think we’re going to be just fine.”
Even though the campaign didn’t end in a championship, Shewmake said he thought it was a successful season.
“With what these kids did with where they were and what they had to go through to get back to the championship game, I’ll look at that trophy and remember that weekend for the rest of my life,” he said. “I had umpires during the game, late in the tournament, come up to me and go, ‘Coach, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s been really impressive what you’ve been able to accomplish.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t thank me, it’s all these boys.’…That’s something that I’ll remember forever.”