Attending the McKinney Boyd boys soccer match against Jesuit on Tuesday night brought back memories I will never forget.
After playing to a 1-1 tie through regulation, the match went into the two overtime halves in which neither team was able to score and advance to the next round. So instead of playing another overtime period, the match went into a shootout in which both teams had five attempts at the goal to grab an advantage and win the game.
The anticipation and the nerves at Clark Field couldn’t have been more bone chilling, as every person in the stadium would fall under a blanket of silence every time the referee would prepare to raise his hand for the player to begin his attempt. As each round went by, neither team could get an advantage on the other one. Boyd would score on a beautiful strike, and Jesuit would immediately respond with a nice lob over the goalie. After five rounds the score was even at two, which meant that now the rounds would continue until someone could make a goal and stop a goal in the same round.
In the eighth round Jesuit nailed its attempt with ease, putting the pressure on Boyd to answer to keep its playoff dreams alive. Unfortunately for the Broncos, the game just was not meant to be, as Jesuit’s goalie stopped the shot and advanced to the next round of the state soccer playoffs. As I made my way onto the field to interview Broncos head coach Casey Osborn, all I could see were two sets of high school athletes on totally opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For Jesuit, the 20 or so boys were enthusiastically jumping up and down, running over to the stands to high-five their friends and parents and celebrate the fact that their season would continue for at least three more days.
But for the boys on the Boyd sideline, utter disbelief and pure sadness could be felt from every member of the team. Some were sitting on the ground with their heads between their legs. Some were pacing back and forth, images of missed opportunities from the game flying through their heads. And some were trying to find everyone they could to give their teammates a handshake and a hug, understanding that this would be the final time this exact team would play together ever again.
It was almost too powerful of a scene to take in, but the more and more I observed these kids and watched how painful this moment was for them, it brought me back to my senior year at Boyd and my first and only playoff loss I would ever experience.
I played baseball all four years of my high school career, but my junior and senior years were primarily spent at the doctor or the rehab facility. I had two shoulder surgeries performed in less than a year, so I never really had much of a chance to compete for a starting spot my senior year. I still never missed a practice or a game the entire season and did everything I could to get out on that field in case my number was ever called to go in. The only at-bat I had all season came on senior night, when I found my name in the nine hole of the batting order. I had told my coach that senior night would be my last game I would ever try to play in, regardless of how far we went in playoffs in the next month. Rehab was becoming harder and harder every session, and I knew that all I wanted to be during our playoff run was the best teammate in the dugout and not worry about trying to stay loose and risk another injury.
Even though I went 0-for-2 with a walk on the night, I never felt better walking off a baseball field than I did on that night. My playing career was officially over, but I knew that I had bigger and better things in my future, including trying to help my team get to the state championship in Round Rock. We were the first team in Boyd baseball history to make the postseason, an accomplishment my teammates and I will still brag about when our 10-year reunion comes up. We were all very cool and confident heading into our first-round matchup, and we proved we belonged in the tournament by knocking off Grand Prairie, two games to none.
Next up was Flower Mound Marcus, a team that came into our house for game one with some incredible cockiness about them. After taking a beating in the series opener, rain pushed our next game to Prosper High School, where we managed to come back in the top of the seventh inning and even up the series at one game apiece. The game was by far the most intense I had ever experienced in my entire playing career, with dugouts yelling profanities across the field at one another, to the post game handshake where members of their team were yelling in our face that “it was on” in game three. Oh yes it was.
Now I don’t remember much about what happened the very next day. Heck, I don’t even remember the score. All I remember is Dylan Neal hitting a groundball to shortstop for the third out of the seventh inning and our season being officially over. As if someone had just come and punched us all in the gut, all of us made a very slow and painful walk over to third base to shake their hands. Many were trying their best to hold back the tears for just a couple more seconds, hoping to avoid displaying the waterworks to the bunch of kids we couldn’t have cared less about. As I made my way back to the dugout I found my hands getting a little shaky and my face getting extremely numb. I began looking around to my teammates, especially my senior buddies, to see if anyone else was having these same reactions. And before I could open my mouth, I felt tears begin to flow down my cheeks and I knew that this pain was going to really sting.
As I paced myself towards the rest of the team a thought suddenly entered my mind. I took a couple deep breaths and did my best to call for all the seniors to come out to left field real quick. When only one or two turned around, I tried to clear my throat one more time and make the announcement one more time. Finally every senior heard my request and we began making our way out to left field. When we were about 50 feet from the wall, we stopped and began forming a circle, and one by one each of us put our arms around the shoulders of the person next to us. We squished together as much as we could and just put our heads down for a minute. All you could hear were the sounds of every person trying to clear their nose. It was as if no one had any idea of what they wanted to say, but in their minds they had an entire novel of what they could say about this group. One by one, to the best of our abilities, we each shared something about the season and what this group of guys meant to them. Some words or phrases struck people and caused some more tears, and a couple people even made us laugh a little bit. But the more we talked and just accepted the moment, the more we all realized that we will always be able to remember what we did for Boyd baseball and how this group of guys made a whole lot of people at our school proud.
A playoff loss is incredibly difficult to comprehend, but if your final game of your high school career is a loss, the pain and misery is multiplied by a thousand and one. It all comes down to how you accept the defeat and choose to look at the experience that determines what memories you have about the season, and most importantly, your teammates.
Despite the loss, I know that I will never forget my teammates and all that we were able to accomplish. And in the end, that is all that matters, right?