The greatest baseball season in Tolar history came to a stunning end Thursday, June 1, but not before the Rattlers gave their fans and all of Hood County the most memorable season ever by the team.
The Rattlers finished with a 25-10-2 record and a Class 2A Region 2 finals berth. They appeared to be on their way to a first-ever state tournament appearance after defeating Collinsville (32-6-1) 6-4 in the first game of their best-of-three series at Chisholm Trail High School in Fort Worth on May 31.
However, a day later, the Pirates countered with wins of 10-0 and 9-0.
"We came out strong in Game 1 and set the tone from the first pitch. The kids were confident and played lights-out just like we have all year long," Tolar coach Lance Alford said. "Thursday, we felt great coming in but unfortunately we just didn't get the job done. It is still one of the most heartbreaking defeats I've been a part of. Still very proud of these guys and everything they accomplished."
The Rattlers won the District 13-2A championship, followed by four consecutive playoff series — including against No. 2 ranked and defending state champion Valley Mills.
"At the end of the 2022 season, we knew we were going to be loaded for bear. We had six solid seniors coming back and a very strong pitching staff," Alford said.
The Rattlers were coming off a 22-7 season that saw them reach the third round of the playoffs for a second straight year.
"Before the season started I was having sleepless nights because of all the talent we had coming back and trying to find playing time for those guys. It was a very good problem to have," Alford said.
The Rattlers also overcame a huge blow before the season began as they lost one of their top pitchers in Luke Willmon.
"He had an outstanding season playing defensive end for the football team when he started his preseason pitching workouts. One day he felt a pop in his elbow while throwing," Alford said. "Our biggest fears were realized when he tore his ulnar collateral ligament and had to have season-ending Tommy John surgery.
"Before that happened, we had already put a schedule together that would challenge us all year long."
The Rattlers backed down from no one, starting with the opening weekend of the season in the Glen Rose/Stephenville/Godley Tournament. Playing shorthanded because the basketball team also advanced to the regional final, the Rattlers went 0-3 with losses to Class 4A Glen Rose, which went three rounds deep in the playoffs; 4A Brownwood, which went two rounds deep; and 3A Boyd, which was in the state semifinals at press time.
"Our last game in that tournament was against 4A Stephenville (regional finalists). Before the game the team had a players-only meeting and it was during that time that they came up with our team motto 'Find A Way,'" Alford said. "They fought their tails off that game and we found a way to tie them 1-1."
After the basketball players came onboard, the Rattlers went 23-6-1. Along the way they would beat 4A Krum twice (two rounds into the postseason), 3A Vernon, 3A Jacksboro (two rounds deep), Southwest Preparatory Conference state champion Fort Worth Trinity Valley School, and tie 3A Brock (regional finalist).
Alford reflected on the players who played in the majority of the games this season:
Keaton Morrison, moved from second base to utility player. "Catalyst of the team. Set the tone for us on every game. Led the team in steals (17)."
Jackson LeCluyse: Three-year starter. Player of the Year 2021, MVP 2022 and all-state player 2022. "Was a servant leader in that he would do all the little things without being asked and without seeking praise."
Cade Moody: Three-year starter and first team all-district all three years. "Great outfielder with a strong arm. Threw out seven base runners from the outfield, including three huge ones at home plate during the playoffs."
Reis Brown: Three-year starter. District MVP '21, POY '22. "Reis' season was shortened by an injury he sustained in the regional final (basketball) game vs. Lipan. When he returned to the lineup his impact was immediate. Played outstanding shortstop and outfield. Had arguably the biggest hit of the season when he mashed a walk-off grand slam against Moody in the first round of the playoffs."
Brock Owens: Three-year starter. Two-time first-team all-district. Moved to second base from third. "Played outstanding defensively. Had a 12-game hitting streak during the season."
Juniors: Merritt Imel: First-year starter. "Ask me how great it is to have a first baseman that is 6-6! Great hands, not only in the field but at the plate as well."
Jesse Owen: Three-year starter. District Newcomer '21, Co-offensive POY '22 and '23. First-team all-state catcher in '22. "Never caught before but was willing to take on the challenge as a freshman and has been our rock behind the dish. Led the team in extra-base hits (13)."
Talan Brown: Three-year starter. Two-time Utility POY. "Was by far our most consistent pitcher (10-2 with a 1.24 ERA, including 4-0 in playoffs). Started the year 0-2 then reeled off 10 W's. Always around the strike zone as his numbers show. Solid shortstop who made all plays look easy."
Talan Culberson: Two-year starter. Newcomer of the Year '22. "If the ball was ever hit to center field, it was caught when he was in there. Heady ball player who loves the big stage. Makes playing the outfield look easy."
Drake Owens: First-year starter. "We saw what Drake was capable of when he played third base in the last playoff game for us in 2022. His range, arm strength and quick hands make him the perfect guy for the hot corner."
Several members of the Granbury Pirates were named to the All-District 5-5A Academic Team. Honored were Garrett Jones, Tyler Guidry, Ty Halvorson, Braxton Heffernan, Gavin Current, Hunter Jones, Blake Bramlett, Hudson Hamilton and Kyler Crites.
The Granbury SEALS opened the summer swim season in Weatherford this past Saturday, June 3. Top finishers were:
Eliana Sanchez, third in 25 free, 29.96; first in 25 back, 28.23.
Camille Vazquez, third in 25 back, 31.36.
Madeline Baysinger, first in 25 fly, 31.75; first in 25 free, 22.44.
Shelbie Matlock, second in 50 free, 50.33; third in 25 back, 27.73; second in 25 free, 22.53.
Aubrey Snow, third in 50 free, 53.09.
Leah Citzler, first in 50 free, 39.65; first in 25 back, 20.55; first in 25 breast, 22.27.
Sydnie Matlock, third in 25 back, 26.14; third in 25 free, 20.89.
Harper Fox, first in 50 back, 40.92; second in 50 fly, 37.51; third in 100 IM, 1:25.37.
Lilli McKelvy, second in 50 back, 42.70.
Abigail Beatty, third in 50 breast, 43.30; first in 100 IM, 1:23.71.
Carmen Citzler, second in 100 free, 1:08.62; second in 50 free, 29.74; second in 200 free, 2:30.29.
Bailey Stone, first in 50 back, 38.75; third in 200 free, 2:42.70.
Autum Stuart, first in 100 free, 1:06.64; first in 50 free, 29.70; first in 200 free, 2:25.95.
Valentina Uzcategui, third in 50 fly, 39.94.
Hannah Ward, first in 50 breast, 39.11; first in 50 fly, 31.51; first in 100 IM, 1:14.45.
Bethany Crowe, second in 100 free, 59.34; first in 100 IM, 1:07.42; first in 200 free, 2:18.69.
Rayah Gifford, first in 100 free, 58.91; first in 50 fly, 29.67; first in 50 free, 26.78.
Elise Ward, third in 50 back, 38.55; third in 50 fly, 32.52; third in 100 IM, 1:17.23.
Tristy Stuart, first in 100 free, 1:10.37; first in 50 fly, 37.89; first in 100 IM, 1:23.34.
Reid Holdridge, third in 25 back, 29.46.
Jaxon McKelvy, third in 25 fly, 28.84.
Asher Beatty, third in 25 breast, 23.35.
Mason Prince, first in 25 back, 19.20; first in 25 fly, 16.59; first in 25 free, 16.17.
John Stone, first in 50 free, 35.79; second in 25 breast, 22.84; first in 100 IM, 1:41.40.
Kyle Brawner, first in 100 free, 1:07.57; first in 50 breast, 39.73; first in 50 fly, 34.45.
Adler Snow, third in 100 free, 1:12.13.
Jude Ward, third in 50 back, 38.41; second in 50 free, 30.70; first in 100 IM, 1:16.93.
Logan Crowe, second in 100 free, 1:02.00; first in 50 free, 28.01; first in 100 IM, 1:10.67.
Aiden Gifford, second in 100 free, 1:10.89; first in 50 back, 36.68; third in 50 free, 31.03.
Heath Crowe, first in 100 free, 57.63; third in 50 fly, 28.59; third in 100 IM, 1:07.08.
Zane Herndon, second in 100 free, 58.88; first in 50 breast, 30.75; second in 200 free, 2:10.11.
Lee Stuart, second in 50 breast, 32.34; first in 100 IM, 1:04.61; first in 200 free, 2:06.56.