“Surprises, like misfortunes, seldom come alone.” — Charles Dickens, “Oliver Twist”
The image sat in his mind like a giant weight hanging around his neck.
Seven months earlier, he’d suffered the indignity of falling short of admittedly lofty dreams at his only other state appearance, leaving the 2A state cross country meet with a silver medal.
But this was baseball, and Jon Franz couldn’t imagine that happening to a Salado Eagles team that seemed destined for gold from the first pitch of the season.
Yet for the first time all year, Franz allowed himself to think the unthinkable — what if it doesn’t go our way?
No, that couldn’t happen. Not to this team, not to him.
Yet there he stood, huddled around the Dell Diamond pitcher’s mound in the top of the second inning stunned at what he was witnessing — Salado junior ace Casey Frazier handing the ball over to head coach Chad Krempin after an inning and a third and the Eagles trailing 5-0 on the scoreboard.
It never got any better, in fact it got exponentially worse, as five errors led to a 2A state-record eight-run fourth inning en route to a 16-3, five-inning loss to No. 7 Hallettsville in the 2A state semifinal Wednesday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
In the end, Frazier’s stat line almost seemed like a misprint: 7 runs, 6 earned, 7 hits, 12 batters faced in just 1 1/3 innings on 43 pitches.
But the strangest thing was how tenuously the word “loss” seemed to hang there next to Frazier’s name.
The junior ace (11-1), who’s performance on the bump in his previous 23 consecutive victories made him seem superhuman at times, was brought back to Earth in disastrous fashion.
Known for his ability to go the distance, to carry the Eagles on his back, to be untouchable, all made Frazier the no-hesitation start for Krempin.
That’s what made the way he and the rest of the Eagles performed on the biggest stage of all so surprising and unsettling.
This wasn’t the same team that set a program record for wins in a season (34), eclipsing the previous best by two set by the 2008 state championship squad.
This wasn’t the same team that had continually responded when faced with adversity, battling back twice this postseason after being pushed to the brink in three-game series against Centerville and Troy.
Franz is one of six seniors who fully expected to walk across the UMHB stage at the Salado High School graduation Thursday evening proudly sporting gold medals over their caps and gowns.
Instead, that special group — several of whom were in the stands as fans the first and last time Eagles baseball ended a season with a win — will cap their Salado career wondering what could have been.
Despite all that, despite the watery eyes and the feeling of a dream left incomplete, the only true disappointment will come if the talented junior class that helped pace Salado this season fails to make it back to this stage next year.
Hearing the way coaches and players spoke after the game, that seemed almost assured. But as Salado proved Wednesday, nothing is certain, and sometimes the unthinkable can happen.