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A Gatesville High School baseball season riddled by personnel losses and held together by duct tape and bailing wire for most of the year came to a frustrating end on Friday with a 5-3 loss at Glen Rose High School.

The Hornets finished the season 9-17 and were 4-8 in District 6A, as they missed out on a second straight playoff appearance by one game. Stephenville won the district for the second year in a row, followed by Glen Rose in second place and Brownwood in third. Lampasas finished fourth.

On Friday, the Hornets turned to senior pitcher Hayden Mooney – the only four-year letterman on the squad – to extend their season. He responded with a gutsy 5-2/3 innings on the mound, holding the Tigers to just four earned runs only three days after Glen Rose scored 16 in a win at Gatesville.

Mooney helped his own cause and gave the Hornets a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when he hit the first pitch he saw for a home run off the scoreboard in left-center. Mooney’s first blast of the season invoked the spirit of Roy Hobbs as it momentarily knocked out the lights on the scoreboard.

In the top of the fifth the Hornets pushed the lead to 2-0. Junior Grant Erwin and senior Gill Wallace opened the inning with a pair of singles and Erwin scored when freshman John Ibarra doubled to left. Senior Parker Allman drew a walk, but both were left stranded.

In the bottom of the inning Glen Rose tied it at 2-2 on a Braulio Silva homer, then took a 3-2 lead on a run-scoring double. The Tigers tacked on another thanks to a double-steal to make it 4-2.

In the sixth, senior Cayden Mata reached and scored on a single from junior Carter Williams to shrink the deficit to 4-3. Williams was one of several Hornet underclassmen who saw increased time thanks to the loss of several players before the during the season.

John Ibarra as a freshman was asked to play one of the hardest positions on the field, at shortstop. He was unfazed by the competition level and showed a lot of resilience at the position, head coach Chase Smith said. “Carter Williams kept getting better and started playing and swinging the bat with confidence toward the end of the year. He did a good job of playing several positions and being a utility guy for us.”

Mooney retired the first two Tigers he faced in the bottom of the sixth before giving up a single to Silva and handing the ball over to Mata. Mata got a ground ball from Damian Flores that was misplayed, allowing Silva to score and pushing the Tigers’ lead to 5-3.

In the top of the seventh, the Hornets managed a two-out walk from Allman before a fly out to right ended the season and the careers of seven seniors — Mooney, Mata, Allman, Wesley Brown, Gill Wallace, James Hamilton, and Kody Hernandez.

“All of our seniors contributed and will have a lasting effect on this program and I can’t wait to see what they do in the future,” Smith said.

The class of seniors saw more than its share of ups and downs in four years of high school, including the hiring of Smith as head coach, a COVID-shortened sophomore season in 2020, breaking a three-year playoff drought in 2021, and a senior year that started with aspirations of a district title and ended with five of nine projected starters out for the season.

In 2021, a young Hornets team went 16-12 and lost in the bi-district playoff round to Graham. Hopes were high heading into 2022 before player losses consumed the core of the club.

Sophomore all-district left fielder Lawson Mooney, junior all-district shortstop Banner Allman, sophomore pitcher & 2021 District Newcomer of the Year Bralen Veazey, and second baseman/pitcher Ayden Necessary were all lost for the year in the fall.

Then, in the Hornets’ 4-3 district win over Lampasas, junior Camden Galindo was lost for the remainder of the season. At the time of his loss, Galindo was hitting .323 and getting on base at a .577 clip.

“All the injuries before the season started were devastating but that did give some guys who might not have gotten as much playing time a lot of really good experience to pull from in the future,” said Smith.

Despite the unexpected results there were examples of just how good Gatesville baseball is and will continue to be. The Hornets swept Lampasas for the season, lost a 2-1 decision to state-ranked Cameron Yoe behind a complete game two-hitter from Grant Erwin, and were 4-2 in their first six district contests.

Gatesville is heading into a new district in 2023 with China Spring, Robinson, Salado, Waco La Vega, and Waco Connally, but hopes remain high – perhaps higher than they were heading into 2022. The Hornets are scheduled to return 13 letterman and promote players from a junior varsity that posted a 15-7-2 season record. 

“We have a lot to build off of and a lot of really good players coming up on our JV and JH kids coming up next year that give us a lot to get excited about,” Smith said. “We will go into another tough district, and I know the guys coming back are eager to get back out there and we as a coaching staff will be ready as well.”

The District 6-4A committee met on Monday to determine this season’s all-district honors. Selections will be announced once all 6-4A teams have been eliminated from the postseason.