Lampasas did something it has not done in years – the Badgers got a taste of the postseason.
After years of subpar play virtually ended the season long before reaching the last game on the schedule, Lampasas finally had something to play for in Tuesday’s regular-season finale against Gatesville.
Although the Badgers fell just short of reaching the playoffs, losing to the Hornets 4-3, at long last, they felt the pressure of a must-win situation, and the experience was crucial for repairing a bruised program’s psyche, according to Lampasas head coach Manny Perez.
“In a sense, this was a playoff game,” the first-year coach said. “We have a lot of good ballplayers, and they talked among themselves, saying, ‘At least we have a chance. We have a chance.’
“And they are absolutely right. We had a chance, and they acknowledge that.”
Had the Badgers won, they would have made the playoffs for the first time since 2006, when current Salado head coach Chad Krempin guided then-Class 4A Lampasas to a best-of-three series victory against Crowley in the bi-district round.
In the eight years since, however, control of the program has changed hands four times with Perez starting the season as the Badgers third head coach in three years.
Perez has a vision for the team, though, and although the Badgers’ 4-18 overall record might indicate otherwise, he feels certain things are moving in the right direction, but he admittedly cannot push the program forward alone.
“The kids are here,” Perez said. “Now, it is up to them to buy into what we are trying to do and jump on board. The same goes for the parents. … The direction we are trying to go is not the easiest. It’s demanding. It’s very disciplined. It’s very fundamental. Some people might call it boring, but it is what works, and I believe if they can buy in, we are going to be a hard team to beat.”
And Perez is not alone in the feeling.
Following Tuesday’s encounter, Gatesville head coach Graig Keeton acknowledged Lampasas is showing progress.
With both teams fighting for their postseason lives, the Hornets jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the Badgers began rallying behind a two-run fourth inning, trimming the deficit to one run, 4-3, on Laine Wiggins’ RBI single in the fifth.
Lampasas could not complete the comeback, but the atmosphere was intense with Gatesville also looking to end a playoff drought, having missed out every season since 2010.
“It was fun, and either way it went, Coach Perez is an excellent coach,” Keeton said.
“We just looked at each other in the seventh inning and just smiled because who knew it was going to come down to this. I have a lot of respect for Lampasas.”
The Badgers will return a bulk of their roster next season with only three seniors graduating, but the trio comprised of pitcher Ryan Baxter, catcher Cutter Estep and first baseman Ralph Marez was a valuable asset.
“Those three seniors are certainly special individuals,” Perez said. “They’re tough, and they try to do everything possible that I ask them to. They are just great kids, and they are definitely going to be missed.”
Although his first season was not as successful as hoped, Perez began accomplishing what he set out to do by accepting the position at Lampasas.
“I know it has been eight years since they made the playoffs, and last year, they didn’t win a single district game,” he said. “But to be honest, coming into this, none of that really mattered. The goal was trying to establish a program built on discipline, hard work and a team commitment.
“We are still working on that, but I believe we are heading in the right direction, and I think a lot of these kids would agree with that.”