OKLAHOMA CITY —
The Amber-Pocasset baseball team got about as close as a team can get to a state championship without actually hoisting the trophy Saturday afternoon at Palmer Field, but two swings of the bat changed the fate of the Panthers’ season.
Amber-Pocasset lost the game 5-2 to the Rattan Rams, but the game was closer than even that score would indicate. With the game tied going into the seventh inning, Rattan took control with two home runs that put the Panthers down for good.
Head coach Cheyenne Graham was still upbeat after the defeat, focusing on the big picture of what the Panthers accomplished in the season gone by.
“I’m proud of my kids; I’m not disappointed with the loss,” Graham said. “We’ve done something this season that a lot of teams would love to do. I’m proud of my kids, and I’m happy for them. It’s going to be tough to see these guys go.”
Tensions were high on both sides as the game drew nearer to a conclusion, with both teams deadlocked. Something had to give, but no one knew what the breaking point would be.
Asked how he felt going into the bottom of the sixth inning, Amber-Pocasset assistant coach Zach Warner’s answer summed up the intensity of the game.
“Like I’m about to puke,” Warner replied with a laugh.
Jonathan Samuels hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to break the 2-2 tie. Right after that, pitcher Blake Watts helped his own cause with a solo shot to extend the Rams’ lead.
Samuels had already made some noise earlier in the state tournament, having hit two home runs in Rattan’s semifinals game, including the go-ahead runs.
Up to that point in the game, Am-Po starting pitcher Ryan Cauthen had pitched a strong game. Rattan had scored two runs in the top of the fourth on two doubles; Cauthen had only allowed one other hit, a single, before the seventh inning.
Cauthen was taken out of the game after the second home run, replaced by Chase Johnson. Cauthen pitched six innings, allowing five runs on six hits and striking out two batters. The Amber-Pocasset defense played solidly behind him, committing no errors.
“We played well,” Graham said. “I don’t think we had an error. We did have a couple of mental mistakes, but that’s baseball. You’re not going to play a state championship game and not have a mental mistake. I’m proud of these guys. I don’t feel like there were any losers today.”
Johnson recorded all three outs in the seventh inning, two of them on strikeouts. The damage had already been done, however, and Am-Po could not come back despite getting two runners on base in the final frame.
Am-Po started off well, scoring one run in the first and second innings. Josh Jackson walked to lead off the game, followed by a single by Trey Winfrey. Jeff Jackson drove in Josh Jackson with a double, but Winfrey was thrown out at the plate.
Winfrey went 1-for-3 in the game, and Jeff Jackson went 1-for 3 with one RBI.
In the second inning, Cauthen reached base on a lead-off single, advanced to second base on a wild pitch, and then moved to third on a single by Denton Lowe. Cauthen caught Rattan off guard and reached home on a stolen base.
Both Cauthen and Lowe went 1-for-3 in the game. Johnson also went 1-for-3, and Ethan James was the only Am-Po player with multiple hits, going 2-for-3.
Once it was all over with, it began to set in for the Am-Po seniors that this was really the end. As their names were announced for them to receive their medals, the Panthers went down the line for handshakes, hugs and emotional exchanges that revealed the bond of a tightly-knit group of players.
“I’ve had some of them for a long time,” Graham said. “They’ve become my family. They’re all close, love each other…and that’s what it’s all about. The relationships.
“They’ll look back in a few years and they won’t care that they didn’t win the state tournament. They’ll see what they did, and they’ll be proud of it, and always have it.”