Ray Hydes turned red in the face as he raised his balled fist in exhausted triumph Saturday evening along the third base line.
The solitary celebration was a dozen years in the making. Across the diamond, the Midlothian Panthers celebrated in harmony around a teammate who needed it more than most realized.
And Ronnie Clanton Field provided the perfect backdrop.
"We just fight," said Hydes from left-center field following the Panthers 5A Region II quarterfinal-clinching 5-4 victory against Cleburne. "I don't know how else to say it. They stuck with it, and we had a lot of chances to give up, especially there when the cave started to collapse but they found a way to save it together.
"Then Garrett [Bourgeois] gets a big base hit, you know, his grandfather died two weeks ago, and he had been waiting for a chance, and then he does that. That is what this is all about and that is why I coach. That kid needed something positive and that is what it is about."
Bourgeois delivered the walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth inning in game three of the best-of-three series. It was the second game to need extra innings in the series.
It wasn't exactly a no-doubt single, either.
Bourgeois, batting from the No. 9 spot in the Panthers order, stepped into the box with one out and Josh Oliver on second base in the bottom of the eighth. Oliver had reached after being plunked in the buttocks by an offspeed pitch. He then advanced to second base courtesy of a Lance Rains sacrifice bunt down the third-base line.
"I was just trying to get something to the right side of the field and move the runner over," Bourgeois said. "I definitely wasn't expecting that, and I was kind of nervous when I hit it because I thought he was going to catch it."
Hydes thought the same thing. The skipper admitted, "I thought he was going to catch it and I thought, 'Oh my gosh he is going to catch it and we are going to get doubled up,' but then I saw it fall. The good Lord is taking care of us and we finally got something positive. Our kids just kept battling and it was unbelievable."
Oliver scored with ease, Hydes raised his fist to the heavens and Bourgeois was swarmed by teammates a few steps from first base.
"My mind was just racing. I saw coach start cheering and then he gave me a hug and everyone starting dogpiling around me," Saturday's hero recalled. "[...] It was special. I know he is looking down on me and smiling."
Cleburne took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Kevin Duran grounded into a fielder's choice off of Midlothian starting pitcher Caden Copeland. Willie Rangel scored for the Yellow Jackets on the play.
Midlothian then plated four runs in the bottom half of the frame, with three of those runs coming on a two-out, bases-clearing double off of the bat of Ryan McCaskill.
Anthony Ferrante doubled five pitches later to score McCaskill for a 4-1 Panthers lead.
The Yellow Jackets cut into the Midlothian lead with a run in the fourth inning but Copeland kept the Cleburne bats in check for the majority of his six-plus innings of work.
When he exited the game in the top of the seventh inning, Midlothian led 4-2, though Cleburne did have the tying run at the plate with a runner on first base.
Josh Tankersley came on in relief and threw well, only to have a couple of soft-hit balls find space and Cleburne tie the game at 4-all.
The Panthers threatened in the bottom of the seventh but couldn't quite get anything together.
Tankersley promptly worked through the top of the eighth inning with little problem, quickly inducing a pop out down the third-base line and ground out to shortstop. He ended the frame with a three-pitch strikeout.
Tankersley earned the win, and the Panthers clinched their first trip to the regional semifinals since 2006, with the Bourgeois-led magic in the bottom of the eighth inning.
His single dumped just over the outstretched glove of the Cleburne second baseman allowed Oliver to score with ease for the 5-4 walk-off win.
"It's huge," said game-one winner Caden Hawkins of the series clincher. "At the beginning of the season, we weren't really clicking and Cleburne beat us twice in district. Toward the end of the season, we had about three weeks left and we weren't supposed to make the playoffs. But we found a way to win five out of our final six games and made the playoffs and everything started to click after that."
HAWKINS SPINS A GEM
On Tuesday, Caden Hawkins signed a national letter of intent to continue his baseball career with Weatherford College. Two days later he tossed a complete-game that can hold its own in an argument against any other in the state this season.
According to UIL rules, a high school pitcher cannot throw more than 110 pitches in any one outing, which has greatly reduced the number of seven-inning complete games tossed around the state. Let alone eight-inning gems.
So Hawkins decided to do not just one better than seven, but two.
The senior struck out 13, walked none and scattered six hits across nine-full innings of work Thursday in Cleburne during a 3-0 win in game one of the regional quarterfinal series.
McCaskill (2) and Tankersley drove in the three Midlothian runs in the top of the eighth inning.
Hawkins credited the hostile atmosphere for upping his game.
"Their fans helped a lot," Hawkins said. "When they go crazy, it makes me want to do better. The best feeling is when you can quiet a crowd like that. It is the best feeling, so I definitely think I drew a lot from their crowd."
He added, "I couldn't have had a better week, honestly. All of my friends and family were there to see me sign and, ever since I was little, that was something that I always wanted to do. And then we come out here and beat them (Cleburne), it's huge. It's been an awesome week."
QUITE THE DUEL
Cooper Scheider tossed a hyphen of a game Friday evening in Midlothian to help Cleburne even the series against Midlothian.
His seven-inning, complete-game one-hitter also outshined the seven-inning outing by the Panthers Jackson Quinn.
Both pictures struck out nine, while Scheider walked two and Quinn allowed two unearned runs on three hits.
Harrington accounted for the lone Midlothian hit (2B).
When posed the question: "If someone asked you two months ago if you thought this pitching staff would throw two complete games in the third round of the playoffs," Hydes responded, "No. No, I would not."
"And not only that, but we did not walk anyone in those two games. Now, we hit a couple of guys, but I am talking about straight up walking," he explained. "Our staff has done some unbelievable things and coach [Ryan] Rodgers does a great job with them and we have a lot of confidence in those kids. My hat is off to him (Rodgers), he handles the pitching and I couldn't do it without him. He is unbelievable."
Midlothian will now face Wylie East in the 4A Region II semifinals at Dallas Baptist University The best-of-three series is slated to begin Thursday, with game two planned for Friday and game three, if needed, on Saturday.
The Panthers improved to 24-13 on the season with the win, while Wylie East will enter the regional semifinal with a 21-13 record.