AUSTIN -- Close, but no cigar -- it's become a recurring theme for Maud in the UIL state baseball tournament.
Shiner runner A.J. Perez safely slips back to second past Maud shortstop Kyle Caudle, 10, during their semifinal game Thursday at the UIL Class 1A State Baseball Tournament in Austin. Shiner won the game 8-7. Associated Press photo by Jack Plunkett
In fact, Thursday morning's 8-7 loss to Shiner in the rain-delayed Conference A semifinals was closer than most, the Cardinals watching an early five-run lead disappear in a nightmarish sixth inning.
"It's a tough loss; it really was," said Maud coach Rusty Minyard. "I thought we had 'em."
But after Shiner batted around in the bottom of the sixth, what Maud had was its fifth straight loss in the semifinals following a lone state championship in 1989 and a trip to the finals the previous year.
Maud, 24-3-2 and ranked No. 1 in the state most of the season, took a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth. But the Comanches (22-9), who play Follett for the state title at 8 a.m. today at Round Rock's Dell Diamond, put together six hits --five straight off losing reliever Nick Yates --and a walk to score five runs and take their first lead of the day. They also got the benefit of a close call at first base on a potential double play.
Starter Trent White issued his fourth walk of the game to leadoff batter Dylan Hagens in the inning, but the next batter, Chase O'Connor bounced the ball to shortstop Kyle Caudle, who stepped on the second-base bag and fired to first. However, first base umpire Georg Coit ruled O'Connor safe.
The next six Comanches would hit safely before the Cardinals recorded another out. Ryan Kloesel's double over the left fielder's head chased home O'Connor and finished White, who threw 102 pitches, yielding five runs (three earned) and striking out five.
Yates, whose last mound appearance was in the area series against Collinsville nearly a month ago, was greeted by Chris Baer's infield hit that was flagged down by Caudle, temporarily saving a run.
But winning pitcher Garet Putska pounded a two-run double off the left-field wall and scored the tying run on Russell Boothe's single over Caudle's head at shortstop. Scott Shimek and Brady Strauss followed with base hits, the latter's driving in Boothe with the winning run.
"They swung the bats well, and we made a couple of mistakes here and there that kept them alive," said Minyard. "And I thought we got hosed on the call at first on the double play. I really thought he was out. If we get the call there, they have two outs and nobody on base. Instead, they go on and score five runs."
Until the rally by the Comanches, who won the 2002 title, beating McLeod in the title game, Maud appeared to be in control, building a 5-0 lead after two innings and answering a two-run third by Shiner with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
Maud took a 1-0 lead in the first when Braden Brown walked, raced to third on a perfectly-placed hit-and-run single by Philip Marbut through the vacated shortstop's position. Brown continued to the plate when the relay from the outfield sailed to the backstop, the first of four Shiner errors in the first two innings.
Three of those miscues came in Maud's four-run second when the Cardinals' aggressive baserunning had the Comanches throwing the ball all over the park.
The first came when the center fielder dropped Jamie Atkinson's one-out liner. Steven Atkinson's bloop single to center put runners at the corners and the two pulled a double steal, Jamie Atkinson hesitating, then scoring when Steven Atkinson was safe at second. He later scored when the catcher's attempted pickoff throw at second sailed into center field.
Chris Jaggers, who had walked, rounded second on the catcher's throw and when the Comanches tried to make a play on him, the ball got through the second baseman and the center fielder, allowing Jaggers to score.
Brown walked, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-0.
Wild pitches -- the left-handed Pustka had five among his 128 pitches over six innings -- also figured in Maud's next run in the fifth inning, Marbut reaching on a third strike that got past the catcher, moving to second on another wild pitch and scoring on Yates' single to the right of second base.
A single by Jamie Atkinson, a walk, Jaggers' sacrifice bunt and Brown's sacrifice fly to center made it 7-3 in the top of the sixth.
Shiner scored twice in the third on two hits, a walk and the first of two Maud errors, and once in the fifth on a leadoff triple by Chris Baer and a throwing error.
White, who finished the season with a perfect 10-0 record, was uncharacteristically wild.
"Trent didn't have his good stuff today, and neither did Nick," said Minyard, who also questioned the calling of home-plate umpire Robby McBride. "It looked to me like the umpire was pretty liberal with their strike zone. But you can't take anything away from Shiner and the way they swung the bats."
Steven Atkinson was the only Cardinal with two hits, going 2 for 2 with a walk. Strauss had three hits for the Comanches and Baer and Pustka had two each in the 11-hit attack.
Pustka (13-2) was also a horse for the Comanches on the mound, striking out eight, walking four and hitting a batter. Only three of Maud's runs were earned. Shimek, a hard- throwing right-hander, earned a save by pitching the seventh inning, although he walked two batters.
Shimek retired Jamie Atkinson on a grounder to second for the final out after a nine- pitch at-bat that included a foul ball that barely eluded the third-base bag.
Minyard said the heart-wrenching loss does not tarnish the Cardinals' season.
"I'm proud of these kids," he said. "They did a great job getting here, and they don't have anything to hold their heads down about."
GAME SUMMARY: Maud 140 011 0 -- 7 5 2 Shiner 002 015 x -- 8 11 4 Trent White, Nick Yates (6) and Chase Brint. Garet Pustka, Scott Shimek (7) and Brady Strauss. WP-Pustka (13-2). LP-Yates (5-2).