Brady High School baseball head coach Rocky Bernal said Thursday that the “collision” in the infield between a Sonora player and his player during a district game on Tuesday, March 19, was a “malicious and intentional” action on the part of the Sonora player, and he feels it should result in a suspension for a time period “that is equivalent to how long my player is going to be out.”
Bernal said that Brady’s reserve catcher, Gonzalo Morales, was knocked unconscious and “laid motionless” for at least 10 minutes. The game was halted to allow an emergency medical crew to arrive and transport Morales to the Brady emergency room.
“To me – just in my opinion – it was malicious as can be,” said Bernal of the hit Morales, who is also his nephew, took in the closing outs of the 11-1 win by Brady. “That was just totally uncalled for. I’ve never seen anything happen like that in a baseball game. Most of the time if you see anything, something like that, it’s a collision at the plate between the catcher and the runner, but it wasn’t even like that.”
Bernal describes incident
According to Bernal, Sonora base runner Hunter Bunch – a 6-3, 185-pound senior who is set to continue his football career at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor – should have been immediately ejected and that his senior baseball season should be over.
Instead, Bernal said he had to argue for the ejection, and that at no time following the game did the Sonora coaching staff ever express remorse or concern over the safety of Morales. Bunch was eventually ejected, but the game was over at that point.
“He hit my player so hard it stopped him dead in his tracks. … He fell down and he didn’t move for a while,” Bernal said. “He’s a tough kid and if he knew there was a blow fixing to happen, he would have secured himself, but it was just a cheap shot and a dirty play.
“I could go on and on. It happened Tuesday and it’s Thursday now, and I still haven’t been able to look past it.
“What got me — and I’m not trying to get unprofessional here — but the other coaches had no remorse,” Bernal said. “It bothered me they wanted to point fingers, and point fingers, when they should have been taking care of their own players.
“You know what? That is uncalled for, that’s not acceptable. And apologies haven’t come our way and it’s been two days. That’s a poor example for the kids. You might see it in football, but even in football, you don’t go out there and hit somebody after the whistle. To me, this was the equivalent to that.”
Calls placed to Brady athletic director Shay Easterwood and Sonora athletic director Jeff Cordell on Thursday were not immediately returned.
On Friday morning, Sonora Superintendent Ross Aschenbeck declined to comment on the incident.
“We are handling the situation through UIL protocol,” Aschenbeck said.
Morales was diagnosed with mTBI – a mild Traumatic Brain Injury – and Bernal said it remains to be seen whether his nephew will ever be able to play baseball again. He is expected to see specialists about further care but was released from the Brady hospital.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a mTBI is the most common type of traumatic brain injury.
“With mTBI comes symptoms that include headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety and irritability, as well as impaired cognitive function,” according to the NHT website. “Symptom resolution is thought to occur within three months post-injury, with the exception of a small percentage of individuals who are said to experience persistent post-concussion syndrome.”
Bernal said that Morales was also experiencing tingling sensations in one or both of his arms and that this is also being addressed by those in charge of his medical care.
Bernal described the play, which happened with two outs gone in the fifth inning. One more out and the game was over due to the mercy rule, as Brady was leading 11-1.
Bunch was on second and Sonora also had a runner on first.
“The ball had been popped up in the infield and they called it an infield fly and we didn’t catch the ball,” the coach said. “(Morales) picks the ball up and runs to try to tag (Bunch). Instead of him trying to avoid the tag and continue on the base path to third or go back to second, he turned right into him and lowered his shoulder and tried to run him over.
“He ran out of the base path. The impact was as my player was reaching to touch him and he pretty much puts his shoulder down and tried to run over him, football-style.”
The impact caused Morales to fly backward and land near the grass cutout in front of third base and in the direction of the pitcher’s mound, Bernal explained. The junior had been coming from the third-base side of the mound where he had picked up the ball and was going toward Bunch, who was running from second, and not toward third because there was no force-out play to be made.
“I lost a lot of respect for the kid as well as his dad,” Bernal said of Bunch and his father, Sonora assistant coach Charlie Bunch. “I’m a coach and I have a son, too. If my son ever did that, I’d pull him off the field and make him apologize. I guess the professionalism went out the door really quick.”
The Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead in the first inning and still led 3-1 going into the bottom of the third. They tacked on two more runs in the third and then busted the game wide open with a six-run fourth inning.
Players on both sides were ‘chirping’
While Brady is new to the district and had not had much recent experience playing against Sonora, Bernal said there were moments in the game where players on both sides were “chirping” and that at one point in the second inning, a different Sonora player motioned toward the Brady dugout and fans and “grabbed his crotch” in a taunting gesture.
Bernal said he spoke to the home plate umpire before the top of the third inning but that the umpire said he didn’t see the gesture and would not eject or warn the player.
Still, Bernal said he thought this was all within the rules of the game and did not push harder for a warning or ejection of that player.
What happened three innings later, with the game essentially out of reach for Sonora, was worse than anything Bernal had seen as a player, coach or spectator. Bernal has played baseball since he was six years old and continued all the way through to the collegiate level at Tarleton State University.
‘He could have … avoided the tag’
“Usually when something happens like that, there’s a brawl,” Bernal said. “If you intentionally try to hurt somebody, there’s a full-out brawl, emptying the benches and fist-fights. And this went beyond that.
“He could have tried to get to third, avoided the tag. He’s fast, he’s a big kid, not small by any means, and my catcher was running to tag him and he never once saw him turn and come right at him.
It all happened very quickly but escalated when Bunch was not immediately ejected.
“It wasn’t an ejection immediately and that’s why I came unglued,” said Bernal, who noted that his athletic director, Easterwood, was present and attempted to control Bernal, who was arguing with the umpire.
“The collision happened maybe four or five yards from the base. He wasn’t even close. It’s not like he doesn’t know how to play the game. His was an intent to harm the player. I can’t stand for that.”
Circumstances made situation worse
Bernal said the fact that the game was essentially over made it even worse.
“You can look at it now that the game is over, but it was an 11-1 ball game. This run wasn’t going to matter. But instead of turning to go back the other way, he decided to try to take my guy out.”
The Bulldogs still have eight games left on their district schedule, including a trip to Sonora.
“Somebody could have lost their career. I was talking to my sister (Morales’ mother) and all I could do was apologize. As a coach, as a person, I hold these kids to a high standard and there’s where I hold myself. I ask them to give me everything they’ve got and he’s one that excels in football and in basketball, but baseball is his passion and now he might not have his senior year because someone took it upon themselves to intentionally hurt him, and that’s not why we’re here — coaches, umpires, the UIL. We don’t teach that in Brady. It’s just not right.”
Bernal did not know as of Thursday whether Brady ISD would contact the UIL about the incident. He said that was in the hands of Easterwood, who had been in contact with Sonora’s athletic director, Cordell. Easterwood was away from campus at a track meet Thursday.
Bernal said he would like to see Bunch suspended, if not for the rest of the season, then he at least not be present in the lineup when the Bulldogs travel to Sonora on April 12.
“Coach Easterwood has talked to their athletic director and (Easterwood) was not happy about it,” Bernal said. “I might be able to accept an apology, but there needs to be something done about it. I’ll be fine with going to Sonora in a couple of weeks and him not being in the lineup.”