The Riverside Rebels have been counting on freshman Mason Vicknair all season.
The ace pitcher and leading hitter has come through more often than not. With a trip to Sulphur and the Class 2A state baseball tournament on the line on Monday, he came through again.
After pitching 7.1 innings, and hitting a pair of extra-base hits, Vicknair scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking a 7-7 tie and sending the No. 2 seeded Rebels to Sulphur with an 8-7 win. Riverside (20-9) will play the Menard-Kinder winner in the Class 2A semifinals Friday at 1 p.m. at McMurry Park in Sulphur. Runnels, the No 22 seed, finished 18-12.
After drawing his third walk of the day in the eighth inning, Vicknair went to second on a sacrifice bunt by T. J. St. Pierre. After Runnels intentionally walked Nick Delaneuville, Riverside coach Matt White gambled and sent both runners. As Vicknair ran to third, Runnels catcher Bobby Johnson’s throw sailed into left field, allowing Vicknair to score the game-winning run.
“Right there was a play we’ve been running,” White said. “Mason saw it earlier in the game because the guy was one-looking. He was mad I didn’t send him the last time. When the ball went high, I wanted to grab him and throw him in.”
Vicknair wasn’t just the hero of the end of the game, he was the steadying force throughout it.
The freshman right-hander gave up seven runs, two of them earned, and nine hits. He walked three, hit one, intentionally walked one and struck out four. He also hit a triple, a double, walked twice and was intentionally walked once.
“He’s solid,” White said. “He’s probably one of the best hitters I’ve coached in 20 years at the plate right now. He’s solid all the way around. He’s a competitor. When I went to take him out (in the eighth), he got mad at me.”
“I just knew I had to come in and throw strikes and let the guys behind me make plays,” said Vicknair (7-3). “Coming in, we gave up a few balls. But in the end, it all worked out and we started making plays.”
Monday’s game was neither team’s best. The teams combined for nine errors, eight walks (plus three intentional walks) and five hit batters, plus a few miscues that didn’t make it into the scorebook. The Rebels did not commit an error after the fourth inning, but by then Runnels had a 7-3 lead. The Raiders scored two runs in the first thanks to a pair of errors, a sacrifice fly by Riggs March, and an RBI double by Bobby Johnson.
Riverside scored three in the bottom of the inning off when Runnels starter March gave up Vicknair’s triple, a pair of walks and hit a batter with bases loaded. Chase Wallace’s fielder’s choice, combined with a bad throw, allowed Delaneuville to score the go-ahead run.
But the lead wasn’t safe. Runnels scored two runs in the second and three in the fourth. Riverside chipped away, though, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth on two hits and two errors and a sacrifice fly by Tyler Gauthier to cut the lead to 7-6. In the fifth, Bivona led off with a walk then scored on a double by Brandon Hymel to tie the game at 7.
Runnels nearly won it in the top of the eighth when Bobby Johnson sent a ball soaring toward the pine trees in left field, by Riverside’s Jeremiah Berteau leaped high enough to rob Johnson of the potential game-winning home run.
Both coaches said Monday’s game could have been played much better.
“That wasn’t our ‘A’ game by no stretch,” White said. “We left some runs out there. A couple of miscues. But we got the ‘W’ and we’re moving on. We had a little tough road, we started the season 3-9, but now we’re on fire. Great teams find a way and that’s what we did. We’re better defensively than we showed. We came back and fought back.”
Runnels starter March held Riverside to five hits through five innings, walked one, hit three and struck out four. The Raiders pounded nine hits off of Vicknair.
“I thought both teams were pretty evenly matched, just hearing the scouting reports,” said Runnels coach Tookie Johnson. “I told our guys it was just going to come down to who made that one more play correctly or got one more break. And it really did.”