Spanish Springs, the defending Northern 4A champion, needed a win to earn a berth in next week's playoffs and get a chance to defend its regional crown. Missed opportunities Friday proved costly for the SSHS crew and it was saddled with the one-run loss, its tenth league loss of three runs or fewer.
The Cougars finish 12-18 overall and 6-14 in conference clashes. The top eight teams in the Northern 4A standings advance to postseason play and Spanish Springs finished in a tie with Douglas for the final slot, but the Minden school received the regional berth by virtue of a season sweep of Spanish Springs.
Spanish Springs will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"Overall, I'm disappointed," second-year Spanish Springs coach Ben Hofmann said. "I feel at Spanish Springs we should make the playoffs every year. We've got quality kids and a good program. I feel bad for our seniors and I would've liked to get to the playoffs for them and then to also get some experience for our young kids. We lost a lot of close games. We did get better as the season went on. Hopefully, that translates into the summer and next year."
The league rivals went into extra innings deadlocked at 6-6, but it was McQueen that prevailed after scoring a gift run in the top of the eighth. An infield pop up by Christian Stolo fell to the ground with the help of some swirling winds. After a stolen base and wild pitch, a Lancers sacrifice fly plated the run.
In the bottom of the eighth, Spanish Springs put runners on the corners with one out, but it could not get the tying or winning run home.
The Cougars had similar scenarios throughout the contest and they all came back to haunt the hosts.
Spanish Springs led 6-5 after six innings only to see McQueen knot the game with an unearned run in the top of the seventh. That Lancers' score came when Spanish Springs' lone error of the contest — on a routine relay throw back to the infield — allowed McQueen's Logan Comphel to get all the way to third, after a one-out single. The run scored on a sacrifice fly.
Spanish Springs nearly got the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. The Sparks school had the bases loaded with one out, but McQueen got a strikeout and a fly ball out to end the threat.
The Cougars took a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Vinnie Agliolo walked and Chadd Little reached on an error. Agliolo scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. The Cougars missed out on a chance to tack on an insurance score. Spanish Springs had a runner on third base with no outs, but two strikeouts and a botched squeeze play nixed any extended rally.
Despite the defeat, Spanish Springs did show some fight Friday. The Cougars were coming off a disappointing 8-2 home loss to Wooster Wednesday and a 10-0 lopsided romp at McQueen Thursday but found a way to bounce back Friday and throw a scare into the league-leading Lancers, even after the MHS club jumped ahead 3-0 after the top of the first inning.
Spanish Springs got a run back in the bottom of the first. Troy Weller laced as leadoff singled and later stole home, trimming McQueen's lead to 3-1.
Then, in the bottom of the third, The Cougars posted a trio of runs. Weller drilled a leadoff homer over the wall in right-center field. After a walk to Matt Mannens, Little crushed a two-run blast in nearly the same spot as Weller, forging Spanish Springs on top 4-3.
Anthony Tiscareno gave Spanish Springs a 5-3 edge when he scored a run in the fourth. He walked, moved up to second on a Shannon Kelly sacrifice bunt and scored on a Weller single.
"I was really pleased with our energy and effort," Hofmann said. "The kids tried hard and did everything they could. We made some mistakes but the ones we made were not mistakes from being lazy."
McQueen tied the game at fives on a two-run dinger in the top of the fifth by Anthony Calton.
Tiscareno was solid on the hill for Spanish Springs, He came on to start the third and kept the Cougars in contention. The lefty worked f4 1-3 innings, giving up three runs, only two earned while striking out three and not giving up a walk.
"Anthony was outstanding today. I was really pleased with his effort," Hofmann said. "He had good stuff and kept them off balance. He did everything we needed him to do. All of our pitchers battled and McQueen's a good hitting team as we saw yesterday. Still, our guys did everything they could to keep us in the game and it was nearly enough."
The Northern 4A Regional Tournament starts Tuesday with four first-round playoff games, hosted by the top four teams in the league standings, McQueen, Reno, Manogue and Carson.