DEER PARK, Texas -- Only a day after its town was rocked by a deadly school shooting, Santa Fe High School's baseball team took the field for a regional playoff game Saturday night in hopes of giving the community something positive in the wake of tragedy.
Roughly 36 hours after a shooting that killed 10 and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High, its baseball team played before a beyond-capacity crowd at Deer Park High's Jim Kethan Field, where palpable emotion was ever-present.
Kingwood Park High School won the game 7-0 to sweep the series 2-0 and end Santa Fe's season, but it was a footnote on a night when thoughts were mostly with those grieving after a 17-year-old gunman opened fire Friday morning at the high school located roughly 30 miles from downtown Houston.
The shooting suspect is being held on capital murder charges, according to police officials. Tributes to the victims and references to the tragedy were apparent all over the ballpark on Saturday. Attached to the Santa Fe dugout were two pieces of tape in the shape of a cross with ten initials written on it, representing the students and teachers who were killed in the shooting. The initials were accompanied by the message "missed but never forgotten."
Several Santa Fe players wore black sleeves on their right arms that said "Santa Fe Strong" and had the No. 10 on them. Kingwood Park also donned white "Santa Fe Strong" T-shirts on the bus ride to the stadium and during pregame warm-ups. Both teams gathered in a large circle around the pitcher's mound for a joint pregame prayer. Those in attendance observed a pregame moment of silence.
"After everything that happened, it was definitely hard to come out here and be as strong as they were," Santa Fe pitcher Rome Shubert said.
The fact that Shubert was even present was nothing short of a miracle. The 16-year-old right-hander -- who is verbally committed to the University of Houston -- was one of the students wounded in Friday's shooting. A bullet entered and exited the back of his head near the neck region and barely missed his C1 vertebrae, his father, Mike Shubert, said.
"He was this close" to being paralyzed, Mike Shubert said, holding his thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart.
Rome Shubert spent only a few hours in the hospital before being released. He was in the dugout Saturday wearing his No. 33 jersey. He had a large bandage around his neck to cover the bullet wound, something that became a bit of a conversation piece when he greeted people before the game, several of whom asked him to show it to them.
"I can't really wrap my mind around it," Rome said of his past 36 hours. "It's pretty crazy. I really don't know what to think about it. It's very emotional.
"I just went from Thursday night, pitching a game, to next day, shooter comes in our room and shoots it up, and I get hit in the head. Friends are getting hit. A couple of people in my class passed away. To come out here and have my team be as strong as they were ... I'm really proud of them."
Several Santa Fe players had their eye black in the shape of a cross on their cheeks. A few others put the numbers "14" and "33" on their cheeks for their teammates, catcher Trenton Beazley -- who was unable to play because he, too, was struck by a bullet -- and Shubert.
Beazley was hit in the back by a ricocheted bullet and had his left arm in a sling on Saturday. There will be some recovery time for Beazley to return to full strength, but his mother, Shirley, repeatedly expressed gratitude that her son survived.
"I just want to look at him every minute of the day right now and thank God every minute of the day that he's right here with us," she said.
The teams were originally scheduled to play Game 2 of their Texas Class 5A, Region III quarterfinal series on Friday night, but the game was postponed as a result of the shooting. The Santa Fe team met on Friday night to discuss whether to continue playing the series.
"Coaches and parents said whatever they decided was fine. It's your decision," Mike Shubert said. "They left the room. [The players] came out about five minutes later and said, 'Let's go. We're playing.'"
"To show the community that we're a lot stronger than what happened," Rome Shubert said. "This kinda shows that we're ... gonna pick each other up and come out here, play, give the community some hope, some life, everything."
Santa Fe coach Ronnie Wulf, who is in his 21st season at the school, said the game allowed him to briefly take his mind off the tragedy.
"Just got away from it," Wulf said afterward. "Didn't think about it, like I am now."
Countless hugs were exchanged throughout the night, and tears were shed. Before the game began, junior outfielder Landon Thompson shared an embrace near the dugout with his aunt, Latresha Miles, who was overcome with emotion. Miles said it was the first time she had seen her nephew since the shooting, and she was glad he was unharmed.
"We have a very long road," Miles said. "It's not something that happens and then the next day you forget it and move on with your life."
After the game, players from both teams shared hugs in the infield. Kingwood Park players gave their "Santa Fe Strong" shirts to the Santa Fe players.
"That meant a lot," Trenton Beazley said. "They told us, 'We're playing for y'all now.'"
Said Kingwood Park coach Bruce Cox: "What they're dealing with, you don't wish upon anyone. ... They are incredible young men on that Santa Fe baseball team -- and coaches. It was just super emotional for everybody."
Players and coaches alike were grateful for the overwhelming support they received on Saturday, which included players from several neighboring high school teams being in attendance. It wasn't easy to play -- Rome Shubert said the team had to "dig deep" to find the emotional strength -- but they wanted to show their resilience as they continue to cope.
"We're a strong community, and there's nothing that can faze us," Shubert said. "Things can bring us down, but we're always going to come back from it. Nothing's going to drag us down for the rest of time. We're definitely going to bounce back from everything and come back stronger than ever."