Mustangs' season ends with heartbreaking loss

Seeing a lead evaporate in the late innings was bad enough for Sweetwater's baseball team Friday night in Game 1 of its Region I-3A area playoff series at Lubbock Cooper. But on Saturday afternoon, the very same thing happened again in front of a friendlier crowd.The Mustangs, leading 3-2 in Game 2, needed just one out to even the series and force a third and deciding contest when things began to gradually unravel at Sportsman's Park.Braeden McCook hit a two-out double to tie the game 3-3 and when Sweetwater failed to score in the bottom of the seventh, the teams went to extra innings. There were once again two outs in the eighth when A.J. Perez doubled to score Braden Hayward — who walked — with the go-ahead run. And when Sweetwater was retired in order to close out the eighth the visiting Pirates had another crushing comeback win, 4-3, as well as a 2-0 series sweep that ended the Mustangs' year.Lubbock Cooper (15-17) will play Andrews in the regional quarterfinals, while Sweetwater (20-11) — despite a 20-win season for the first time in 10 years in addition to a second straight playoff appearance — still saw it end with a stinging defeat.Sweetwater head coach Roland Herrera, though, was philosophical afterward. "That was probably one of the best games I've been involved with in a long time," he said."Cooper is a good team. They've got a lineup that can hit from top to bottom and they do a lot of things right. They get a guy on second base, they get him in. They are very fundamentally sound."Seven Sweetwater seniors — Greg Aiken, Dylan Bennett, James Clift, Kaleb Hoover, Stephen May, Quentin Wetsel and Johnathan Browning — played their final game on Saturday. The first five on that list will be especially hard to replace, since each had at least three years of varsity experience. Aiken, who was 3-for-4 on Saturday, was a four-year starter at first base."Any time you have a group of seniors that have played for you more than two years, you're going to really miss those kids," Herrera said. "They're a bunch of good, smart kids and good baseball players, and they did what I asked."Sweetwater never trailed in Saturday's game until the eighth inning. The Mustangs, in fact, jumped out to a 2-0 lead right off the bat.J.P. Poe led off the bottom of the first with a walk, took third on a passed ball and ground ball out and scored on an RBI single by Aiken, who stole second and came home with the second run on Tyler Beasley's single.Lubbock Cooper tied it up 2-2 in the fourth. Following three straight singles that loaded the bases, Mason Gilles drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run and Justin Johnson reached on an error that scored the second run.But Sweetwater regained a 3-2 advantage in the bottom of the frame as Clift ripped a double that scored Beasley, who reached on an error to lead off the inning. And Clift made the lead stand up by retiring the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings. Even after a one-out single by Chase Freeman in the seventh, things appeared all set for a victory when Clift struck out Jordan Salas. But McCook's double changed everything.Michael Lawrence led off Sweetwater's half of the seventh with a walk and was moved over to second base with one out on a sacrifice bunt by Bennett. But Delane Estenson, who pitched the seventh in relief of starter Zak Odom, retired May to end the inning.In the eighth, Cooper's Brock Freeman was called on to preserve a one-run lead for the second straight time in the series and came through again with his second save, retiring Aiken, Beasley and Clift in order to end the game."James threw a good game," Herrera said. "He threw a lot of pitches (147), but still had a lot of pop on his fastball at the end."Clift gave up nine hits and three earned runs, while striking out four and walking two. Sweetwater finished with seven hits, three of them in a scoreless fifth inning when a double play kept the Mustangs from adding to their 3-2 lead. Sweetwater, however, had just one base runner and failed to get another hit after that.