As it gathered for a team photo Saturday evening, the Thorndale High baseball team was asked to strike a simple pose. Standing in front of a green fence at Burger Field, the players were asked to raise their index fingers, the cliché reminder that, "We're No. 1."
Thorndale coach Kelly Kuhl quickly rebuffed the request, gruffly reminding his team "Not yet we're not."
However, with a 6-5 victory over Shiner in the deciding game of their best-of-three Class A regional finals series, the Bulldogs moved one step closer to achieving that goal. The win advanced Thorndale to next week's Class A state tournament, which Thorndale won in 2005.
"All I wanted to do was come back and win," said Thorndale pitcher Cirilo Reyes. "We did it and hopefully we can get another ring."
Thorndale and its fans had to outlast some drama in the seventh inning before they could celebrate another trip to the state tournament.
Reyes, who was pitching in relief, walked Shiner third baseman Kevin Patek to lead off the inning. Patek was replaced by pinch-runner Adam Kalich, who advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Designated hitter Dalton Handley then lined a single into center field, but Shiner head coach Daniel Boedeker opted to hold Kalich at third. The decision proved to be costly as the next Shiner batter, left fielder Ryan Lawrence, grounded into a game-ending double play.
"The center fielder fielded it clean and has a great arm, and I didn't want to take the chance of getting him thrown out at the plate," Boedeker said. "I still liked our chances of scoring with one out."
Kuhl said he was a bit surprised by the move.
"If it were us, we probably would have sent him because you need one more big hit to win it, and obviously they didn't have that."
Reyes, who also pitched out of a jam in the sixth inning, said he relished the opportunity to get out of the high-pressure situation in the seventh.
"I'm a playmaker, man, and I love pitching," he said. "I'm a senior and I've got to take leadership."
Reyes also made an impact with his bat, going 3 for 3 and driving in two runs.
The Bulldogs were able to solve Shiner starting pitcher Kyle Condel, who held Thorndale to four hits in a 5-1 Shiner victory on Wednesday. The Bulldogs had eight hits and only struck out seven times, compared to the 13 times they went down on strikes on Wednesday.
Condel knocked in four runs with a double and an inside-the-park home run, but the rest of the Shiner offense was sluggish against Bulldogs starting pitcher Tyler Pounders.
Pounders limited Shiner to three runs and eight hits while striking out seven batters before being relieved in the sixth inning.