The state championship outcome is secured in the inner sanctum of TAPPS baseball playoff history. The sterile 7-6 final score can’t conjure the stirring, furious finish that pulsated with drama and gushed with emotion and overflowed with sudden punch-to-the-gut despair for Eagle Baseball.
A pair of clutch three-run innings had staked St. Thomas to a healthy four-run advantage over Addison Trinity Christian Academy. Nine outs – a diamond dust eternity – remained to cash the program’s 25th state title.
But a cloudless Wednesday afternoon at Clay Gould Ballpark on the University of Texas at Arlington campus suddenly turned torrential with TCA runs. By the bottom of the seventh inning, the count was knotted 6-6. The Eagles had burned through their pitching staff and soon their hearts were left on the field.
TCA loaded the bases on but one solitary single. A fly ball to left field wasn’t pummeled but deep enough to produce a walk-off title-clinching result – and seal misery for St. Thomas. Only moments earlier in the top half of the inning, daring Donte Lewis ‘24 had occupied third base with only one out after a lead off walk, stolen base, and sacrifice bunt. But a potential go-ahead line drive off the bat of Braydan Salinas ‘23 (Antelope Valley College) was directed squarely at the drawn-in second baseman. An unfortunate break for hard contact at the most inopportune time for the Eagles. The rally quickly died with a called third strike to silence the final St. Thomas at-bat of the season.
Head coach Adam Massiatte had to huddle together a group of shattered young men with their baseball dreams caved in – faces bleary-eyed expressions of devastation – and place the anxiety into proper context.
The Eagles didn’t choke. There wasn’t a blown umpire’s call that would be remembered forever. There wasn’t a player to be fitted with goat horns. There wasn’t a managerial blunder. There wasn’t a key injury suffered at the wrong time. St. Thomas just lost, barely, to a team that came through a couple more times than they did.
“A special group of guys battled day in and day from the minute we started in the fall,” Massiatte said. “Our goal was to win another championship. We got here, but unfortunately, we couldn’t finish it.”
Twenty-four hours earlier, the mojo was measurably upbeat. The Eagles unleashed the big bang theory to bludgeon San Antonio Antonian in the state semifinals. A six-run barrage in the fourth inning was more than ample octane to support five gritty, gutty shutout innings from Lewis. The dual-sport dynamo navigated with the margin of error minuscule. He stranded two runners in the first inning, escaping the bases jammed with no outs. Lewis left two more runners aboard in both the fourth and fifth innings. And Lewis was also lethal aiding his own cause with the bat. His two-run triple was vital in a mix that included an RBI double from third baseman Billy Theroux ‘24, a run-scoring double from shortstop Anthony Equale ‘23 (Washington University in St. Louis), and an RBI bash from outfielder Luke Edgecomb ‘24.
The Eagles gained sustained momentum throughout the second half of the regular season to fuel their championship pursuit.
In mid-April, Lewis stroked a two-out, bases-loaded double in the bottom of the seventh inning to secure a 7-6 victory over The Kinkaid School. He then returned the following day against The John Cooper School and blazed an 11-strikeout no-hitter for a 1-0 triumph. A three-game blitz of San Antonio Central Catholic closed out the district campaign and set the stage for the roller coaster playoff chase.
A large dose of late drama was required to catapult Eagle Baseball to the state tournament for the third time in four seasons and its 11th appearance since 2010.
Equale crushed a two-run home run with no outs in the sixth inning for a pulse-pounding 4-3 verdict over Plano John Paull II in a regional playoff at John Cooper. Equale’s long ball heroics followed Theroux who drilled a single through the left side and stole second. The mammoth blast over the left field wall in the cavernous confines gave the Eagles their first and only lead after trailing 3-0 in the first inning.
Lewis and lefthander Jack Clinton ‘23 combined for six shutout innings. Lewis locked into a staredown against 23 batters, allowing only two earned runs while walking two and striking out three. He took command to retire seven straight Cardinals during one stretch to stabilize the tense win-or-go-home tango.
Iceman Clinton cometh to rack the final five outs, including a bang-bang play at the plate to end the top of the sixth that proved pivotal to the survival match.
Eagle Baseball concluded another exemplary campaign with its fourth state runner-up in 11 seasons to go with state titles in 2010, ‘11, ‘14, and ‘17. In the four rodeos with Massiatte (plus the canceled 2020 season in reaction to the pandemic), St. Thomas has reached two championship finals with a third state semifinal appearance.
In the midst of team success and individual opportunities to extend careers to the university level, Massiatte’s program maintains the highest degree of competitive drive and integrity. And at the bedrock of excellence is Massiatte’s impact as a mentor to young men, inspiring them to become the best versions of themselves while preparing them for achievement beyond baseball.
Eagle Fight Never Dies!