His foot was on the bag.
East Texas Pump Jacks fans were still muttering that to themselves as they left historic Driller Park after an explosive Fireworks Friday post-game display. Even with the final fireworks show of the season – set to a soundtrack full of highlights from Pump Jacks TV webcasts – fans couldn’t believe an umpire’s call in the ninth inning that helped deliver a 3-2 defeat to the home team at the hands of the Coppell Copperheads.
The Jacks held a 2-1 lead entering the ninth inning, with the league leader in saves, Stephen Tromblee, headed to the mound. With one out and a runner on first, Tromblee coaxed a double play ball from Andrew Rehling. Second baseman James Stanfield scooped the ball and delivered it to shortstop Ryan Oesterle covering second, who made the pivot and fired to Brett Nicholas at first.
It was a picture-perfect play, with one not-so-trivial fault: The umpire called Rehling safe at first. Rehling remained at first base with two outs after the umpire declared that Nicholas had pulled his foot off the bag, much to the dismay of a crowd that was confident the game was over. Instead of lining up children for the Pump Jacks customary victory lap promotion, Coppell had one more chance.
Still stunned by the call, Jacks fans watched in utter disbelief as Jordan Imhoff lofted a Tromblee delivery into the right-center gap, bringing home Rehling to tie the game. When Imhoff took third on the triple, the relay throw missed its mark and bounced into the Coppell dugout, allowing him to walk home with what turned out to be the winning run.
In the bottom of the ninth, Nicholas was able to reach with a one-out walk, putting the tying run on base. But the Pump Jacks weren’t able to bring him home, making the fireworks show a bittersweet display.
The ninth-inning call may have overshadowed an outstanding performance by both starting pitchers. Cam Sokalski rebounded from a first inning run to keep the Copperheads off the board for the next six innings. He went seven strong innings for the second straight start, allowing one run on four hits. He walked two and struck out six, just one short of his season high.
Sokalski’s wasn’t the best pitching performance of the night, though. That belonged to Coppell hurler Nathan Karns, who allowed only one hit and struck out 15 batters in seven innings of work. Karns took a no-hitter into the seventh before Justin Snider lined a single off the pitcher for the Pump Jacks only hit of the game. He gave up two unearned runs before that hit, and he walked three.
The Copperheads staked Karns to an early lead with a run in the first, but the Jacks evened the score in the third inning. Cody Morrison was hit by a pitch with one out and stole second. When Russell LaFleur flied out to center, Morrison tagged up to take third. The relay throw from the shortstop was wild, allowing Morrison to race home with the Jacks first run.
The Pump Jacks coupled an error with some creative baserunning to grab the lead in the fifth inning. Kevin Hussey led off with a walk. Two outs later, LaFleur’s bouncer to third was mishandled, allowing Hussey to move up to third base. With runners at the corners, LaFleur danced off first and baited the Copperheads into a rundown, pulling most of the infielders to that side of the diamond. While LaFleur was in the pickle, Hussey picked his spot and dashed home. Once Hussey had crossed the plate, LaFleur stopped putting up a fight, but the go-ahead run was on the board – and still without a hit.
Ian Schwalenberg took over for Sokalski and pitched a perfect eighth with one strikeout, giving way to Tromblee in the ninth.
The loss drops keeps the Pump Jacks in second but drops them three games behind the front-running Victoria Generals. The Brazos Valley Bombers are 1.5 games back of the Jacks, with East Texas headed to Bryan for an all-important two-game set.
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the Jacks have a magic number of seven to clinch a playoff berth. The postseason will begin on August 9, with each playoff team guaranteed at least one home playoff game.
East Texas heads on the road for the next six games, beginning with a weekend series against the Bombers. They’ll head to Victoria for games Monday and Tuesday before a day off on Wednesday. The road trip will close out with a pair in Coppell.
The Jacks will return to East Texas on August 3 to kick off a home-and-home series with the McKinney Marshals. Monday, August 3, will be Kids Eat Free Night at historic Driller Park, with children 12 and under enjoying a free meal just for showing up at the ballpark.
The Bombers will visit East Texas August 5 and 6 to close out the regular season home schedule. The regular season finale on August 6 will feature several promotions, including a season-long favorite: Thirsty Thursday. Fans are invited to the ballpark to beat the heat with $1 draft beers and 50-cent soft drinks all night long.
The August 6 game is also when the first 500 fans can pick up a free Pump Jacks water bottle, courtesy of Good Shepherd and the Kilgore News Herald. The water bottle features the Pump Jacks logo and will be a perfect way to show your team spirit at the gym, on your bike, or wherever you like!
The TCL playoffs will get under way on August 9, with the top four teams advancing to the postseason. Both the first round and the TCL Championship Series are best-of-three affairs. Each series has a home and away format, so all teams in the playoffs will host at least one postseason game. Look for more information on the playoffs next week on pumpjacksbaseball.com, including details on playoff tickets.
Tickets for the last three home games of the regular season are on sale now. Fans may purchase tickets at the Pump Jacks office at 1100 Stone Road, Suite 120, in Kilgore, or over the phone at (903) 218-GO ET. Tickets may also be purchased online – and printed at home on any home printer – by visiting www.pumpjacksbaseball.com.