GC Baseball: Kerens' best baseball season in school history ends in heartbreak

May 27—MADISONVILLE — The best baseball team to ever play for Kerens High School saw its remarkable season end Saturday at Madisonville's Mustang Stadium — ending on the longest and saddest day of the year for the Bobcats, who were beaten twice by Shelbyville, including a Game 3, 10-9 win in extra innings.

The Bobcats' 21-game winning streak and their dreams and season all ended on a day when both pitching staffs were pushed to the limit and beyond with Shelbyville's Dragons surviving to win the 2A Region III Semifinal best-of-three series.

By the end of the second game of the day — a day when temperatures flirted with 100-plus degrees — both teams had their catchers on the mound hanging on with their best pitches to try to save their seasons.

Their best pitchers, including some of the top 2A pitchers (if not the best) in Texas, were long gone, erased with the UIL's pitch-count rule. The backup pitchers gave valiant and courageous performances in a marathon scoring-fest.

Saturday's doubleheader that began at 4 p.m. and ended at 10:16 p.m. was the antithesis of the opening game of the series Thursday, which Kerens won when Ryan Priddy scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Bobcats to a 1-0 victory.

Saturday was a day of survival that ended when Cam Mason's RBI single in the bottom of the eighth brought home a 10-9 victory that sent Shelbyville to the Region III title showdown against Centerville, the final step before the state tournament.

Both teams ran out of pitching, but neither ran out of heart.

Both threw their aces in the opener Saturday and Kerens' Kannon Ritchie, a co-ace along with his twin brother Krayton who hadn't given up a run in more than 2 1/2 months, was in control, leading 4-0 after five innings against Shelbyville ace Dylan Parker.

Kannon left the game after running out of pitches in the top of the sixth with two runners on base, who reached on an error and an infield hit, and Shelbyville saw the crack in the door and stormed through it, scoring eight runs in the inning (more runs than Kerens had given up in its last 21 games when teams scored a total of three runs — or its 7-0 start in the playoffs when Beckville scored the only run against the Bobcats, who aloowed just six singles in the playoffs before their best-of-three series against Shelbyville.

Krayton Ritchie went six innings and Kannon Ritchie struck out the side in the seventh to shut out Shelbyville in the opener and Kannon was in good shape to win Saturday when he left Game 2 of the series.

Shelbyville was arguably the best-hitting team Kerens saw all year, and the Dragons proved it in Game 3 when they ripped three doubles (two more than the Ritchie twins combined to give up all year) and scored 10 runs. The killer two-bagger came in the bottom of the eighth when Weston Frick hit the hardest ball of the day, a drive that sailed over center fielder Muziq Gunnell's head to open the inning. Gunnell can fly and was the fastest player on the diamond Saturday but had no chance to get to Frick's drive and Frick scored on Mason's game-winning single to end a wild game that started when the Dragons took a 5-0 lead in the first. But Kerens fought back and took a 7-5 lead with six runs in the top of the fourth with key RBIs from Kannon Ritchie, who drove in two runs, Adrian Solis, Andy Conklin and Gunnell.

Mason, who caught in all three games, including the first five innings of Game 3, not only got the winning hit, but he was on the mound for the win, allowing four hits and a run over 4.1 innings.

Lane Lynch, who has done everything but sell popcorn at Kerens' home games over the past four seasons, found himself on the mound for the Bobcats in his third pitching appearance of the year.

Lynch is literally a young man for all seasons — he played quarterback and set passing records at Kerens, and was the Golden Circle's Offensive MVP in football. Lane was a key player for Kerens playoff basketball team and the leader and (pardon the pun) the lynchpin for the Kerens baseball team, playing in the outfield and shortstop while pitching now and then before taking over as the anchor for the 2024 team at catcher.

He led Kerens in hitting, scoring, hits, extra base hits, RBIs and home runs as well as fielding and Lane was the leader on and off the diamond, the kind every coach dreams about coaching ... He will be sorely missed.

After catching both games, he pitched 4.2 innings of relief without allowing an earned run while striking out four and walking two. Lane came through with one of the biggest hits of the day when he ripped a double to left in the seventh and came home on Kannon Ritchie's RBI single to knot the score at 9-9, Then he retired the top of Dragons' order to send the game into extra innings.

Like Mason, Lane caught all three games in the series, and took the mound for the first time in more than 2 1/2 months (he threw only 8.1 innings all season) and yet he kept the Bobcats in the game against the most talented lineup they faced all year.

Led by the Ritchie Twins, Kannon and Krayton, who destroyed lineups all year, the Bobcats went 26-5 before Saturday's nightmare. They had a perfect 14-0 record in district and marched further in the playoffs than any Kerens team in history, reaching the Region Semifinals with a 7-0 playoff run in which the Ritchies allowed just one run and a total of six singles over 42 innings.

The Ritchies, who are just juniors, did not allow a run during Kerens' 21-game winning streak and allowed just one extra base hit all year while winning 23 games. Kannon went 11-0 with a 0.45 ERA and Krayton went 12-3 with a 0.51 ERA and they combined to strike out 281 batters along the way.

The Ritches and Lynch led an incredibly talented team that had bigtime players step up all year like Matt Rickard, Ryan Priddy, Adrian Solis, Andy Conklin, Kooper Hill, Muziq Gunnell and JJ Hightower as well as role players such as Kobe Bailey, Lionel Escobedo, Bryce Lincoln and Braden Teafatilla.

It was a magical, memorable year — one for the ages and the record book — and one few will forget and a year that hopefully ignites the 2025 team that could make even more history ...