By Moses Leos III
Let the record show that a nine run fifth inning Tuesday helped the Hays Rebels secure a 13-3 district opening run-rule win over the Del Valle Cardinals.
But for the Hays Rebel faithful, Tuesday’s game was somewhat of an afterthought following a single pitch thrown before the contest even started.
Loretta Null, wife of late head coach David Null, walked barefoot on to the Hays Rebel baseball field to toss a ceremonial pregame first pitch in honor of her husband.
For the Rebels, winning the game Tuesday went beyond going 1-0 in 14-6A play. Doing so for their head coach, who passed away on Feb. 29, meant much more.
“It means everything (to win the game),” junior catcher Cole Irby said. “Coach (James) Howard said … there is no doubt in our minds (Coach Null) is proud of us.”
Hays interim head coach James Howard said preparing for Tuesday’s game wasn’t much different from any other. But he said the team “fought through some things” during their play in a recent tournament over the weekend. It marked the first time Hays had played in a game following Null’s death.
For Howard, ensuring his team was relaxed Tuesday was key.
But Del Valle plated three runs in the first frame on starting pitcher Erique Hernandez.
Irby ignited the Rebel bats in the second frame. After a two out single from Tyler Wilson, Irby followed by crushing a two-run home run off of Cardinal starting pitcher Ryan Wilhite, cutting Del Valle’s lead to 4-2.
“I saw that he started the first three batters with fastballs, so I went up there sitting fastball,” Irby said. “He put it up high and I put a good swing on it.”
The Rebel offense kept up momentum in the second inning by scoring two more runs to take a 4-3 lead.
Hernandez, who went five innings and struck out five, settled down by giving only four more hits the rest of the way.
The Rebel offense slammed on the gas and sped away for good when they scored nine runs in the bottom of the fifth. Hays, which sent 12 batters to the plate, capitalized on four hits and a plethora of Del Valle fielding errors.
Howard said taking advantage of errors, but also going to the plate “with great approaches” helped Hays offense thrive.
For Howard, the resiliency and intensity his team played with was a vital role in the win.
“I’m real proud of the guys,” Howard said. “We have a talented bunch. When they relax and play, they’re good ball players.”