Greatest games of the past decade

Jarrell players, including Morgan Cooper (right) and Travis Nemec, celebrate a 9-2 victory over Bushland in the 2012 Class 2A state title game. The win followed a 13-inning triumph in the semifinals that was voted by Telegram readers as the greatest game of the past decade.

Readers have spoken — a lot of them. In fact, they knocked it out of the park.

More than 5,000 votes were cast on toward the all-baseball final-round matchup in the Temple Daily Telegram’s quest to determine the greatest game of the past decade covered in person by TDT sports writers.

And the winner is (insert drum roll, please), Jarrell’s 13-inning victory over Elkhart on June 6, 2012 in the Class 2A state semifinals (insert round of applause, please). The Cougars’ heart-pounding 3-2 nod — which moved them into that year’s title bout — outlasted Troy’s 1-0 win over Salado on May 30, 2014 in the 2A Region III final.

But it was close. About as tight as those contests themselves. Jarrell notched 52 percent of the 5,236 final-round votes to Troy’s 48 percent, wrapping up the coveted crown.

In all, 9,457 votes were counted during the month-long search, which began with 16 of the greatest games that occurred from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2019.

Jarrell head coach Dean Fitzner, who’s now been at the helm for 10 seasons, said following the bracket and watching the votes come in was an enjoyable trip down memory lane during an otherwise difficult spring.

“The year we’ve had with the virus, it’s been nice to relive something happy. It’s pretty neat,” said Fitzner, whose 2012 team capped its historic campaign with a 9-2 win over Bushland for the program’s first state championship less than 24 hours after the 13-inning marathon that finally reached the finish line when Travis Cockerham drove in Aaron Burns with two outs in the top of the frame and pitcher Morgan Cooper preserved the newfound lead by completing his sixth inning of shutout relief in the bottom half.

“We got a late start because the game before us also went extra innings. So, it was about midnight when we finally left the field,” Fitzner said of the semifinal. “I remember washing clothes at 2 a.m. and then getting back to the field at 9 a.m. for the title.”

Jarrell’s trek to the bracket championship was less exhausting and included victories over the Academy/Kingsville Santa Gertrudis Academy 3A softball state title tilt (2017), the UMHB/Hardin-Simmons football nail-biter (2019) and the Temple/Aledo 5A Division I football state final (2014).

Meanwhile, Troy climbed into the final by toppling Cameron Yoe’s comeback against McGregor in a 3A Division I area-round football playoff (2015), Temple’s upset of DeSoto in the 2010 basketball playoffs and the Temple-Belton three-overtime football thriller (2018).

Because of an eager bunch of supporters from two passionate communities, the final round turned into a barnburner complete with lead changes and momentum-swinging surges. But when five days of voting ran its course at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night, the Cougars claimed the prize.

Fitzner said seeing so many votes reminded him of the support the team had behind it that night eight years ago against Elkhart at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

“I remember looking back into the stands that night and you see nothing but a sea of blue. The whole community came out and that helped those kids so much,” Fitzner said. “You look back on it and there were so many big plays in 13 innings for both teams. Everybody was hanging on their seat every pitch. And just the mental toughness those kids had. It was the will to not lose.

“I still see those guys around here and every now and then it’ll come up. It’s something that we’ll talk about for a while, and I hope that we do.”