Lambert’s baseball team just barely clawed its way into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, but in the first two games of their first round playoff series with Grayson, the Longhorns had managed to take a game from the Region 8-7A champions.
On Wednesday, the Longhorns were competitive and took advantage of the Rams’ mistakes to earn the split. Early in the first inning of game three, it briefly looked like those mistakes would continue when Lambert starter Asher McAllister caught Grayson’s Ben Scartz flat-footed on a pickoff throw to first after multiple attempts.
Lambert’s dugout exploded in jubilation, but that moment was immediately overshadowed. A few moments later, the Rams hit a solo home run, which began a five-run two-out rally. The Longhorns couldn’t get a baserunner until the fourth inning and finished with just two hits, and ultimately, their season ended with an 8-0 loss in Loganville. Lambert ended its season at 9-23 overall.
“They just kind of took the air out of us,” Lambert coach Rick Howards said. “To their credit, they jumped on their opportunities and they shut it down when we tried to get anything going.
“You hurt for our seniors. It's a good group of kids, and they've done what they've asked us to do. It's tough.”
After the home run, the Rams connected on a double, walked, and rattled off a single and a triple before McAllister was taken out after just 2/3 of an inning. Senior Matthew Esz stepped in and immediately ended the inning with a strikeout. In his final high school appearance, Esz did well in relief and gave Lambert a chance to come back, allowing two runs and striking out five over 5 1/3 innings.
“I think my fastball inside was really what helped me the most,” he said. “My curveball away helped me get through some tough hitters. I thought it was tough, but we were going to fight until it was over, and we did.”
Lambert’s hitters couldn’t take advantage of Esz’s success, though. Jonathan Hemings singled in the fourth for his team’s first hit, and although the Longhorns put two runners on at certain points late in the game, those potential opportunities were short-lived.
“When you get in the state playoffs, it's hard," Howard said. "There's a lot of emotions going on, for some of them, it's the last time (playing). Five runs is not impossible (to overcome), but when you keep going to bat and they shut you down, it makes it even tougher. A lot of things roll into that, but to their credit, they made the plays and didn't give us opportunities, which was different than the game last night.”
Despite the loss, Lambert is proud of doing what it could late in the season to even make the postseason. Seniors like Esz were teary-eyed and embraced each other after the final out, but as Howard looked on, he was grateful for their contributions to the future of the program.
“I was proud of (the seniors) for giving us an opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Howard said. “They created that opportunity, something we didn't have last year. They gave these younger kids an opportunity to get a feel for it. We've got to keep growing and developing and doing all those things.”