A hot baseball team will be cooled off this weekend. A good club will see its season come to an end. That's the unfortunate reality of the playoffs.
Stephenville (18-10-2) and Mansfield Summit meet in a 4A Region I bi-district series with game one at 7 p.m. Thursday at Summit (17-15), game two at 7 p.m. Friday in Stephenville and game three, if needed, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Aledo.
The Yellow Jackets have won seven of their last eight, Summit four of its last five. Each has won its last two, including Summit taking out Granbury 4-1 Friday night to jump into a third-place tie with the Pirates in District 7-4A, then beating them again, 2-0, Saturday afternoon in a seeding playoff.
"They play it right - they're going to pitch it pretty well and they're not going to make a lot of mistakes," second year Stephenville head coach James Boxley said of Summit. "They had a good start to district but then they lost a few in a row there in the middle and seemed to be out of the race until they got hot again at the end of district."
Including its final four district games and its seeding playoff win, the Jaguars have outscored their last five opponents 35-16. They needed the late-season flurry to overcome a string of three straight losses that followed a 10-1 win over Burleson in their 7-4A opener.
"They're probably playing their best baseball at the right time, but I really feel like we are, too, said Boxley, whose club was the runner up in 8-4A behind Waco Midway. "And I think we still have better baseball to be played in front of us."
Boxley is especially confident in the Yellow Jackets' pitching staff after seniors Trent Morrison and Brian Picha each tossed five complete games to make it through district play without the use of a reliever.
"Our pitching will keep us in every game and give us a chance to win. I believe that and the guys believe it," Boxley said. "We'll stack up well with most number ones, and I feel like we'll usually have the upper hand on day two or three of any series."
Morrison is starting the playoff opener with his submarine delivery and sub 2.50 earned run average. The game two starter, Boxley says, depends on the result of game one. Picha has followed Morrison in the rotation for much of the year, but one strategy Boxley has explored is saving him for a possible game three if the Jackets win the opener.
"There are different ways you can approach that," Boxley said. "I have a pretty good idea how we'll work it in any given scenario, but we'll just have to see how it works out."
Tyler Floyd and Brock Morrison have been effective in limited pitching duties this season, as have Mookie Carlile, Ryker Thompson, Braden Tanner and others, giving Boxley plenty of options if it comes down to who can eat up innings most effectively.
"You want to have confidence in your pitching all the time, but especially in the playoffs," Boxley said. "That's one thing we definitely have."
The Stephenville coach is excited to have a game inside the friendly confines of James T. Young Field, but is cautioning his club to focus on Thursday's contest first.
"That's going to be fun. Everyone wants to play at home in the playoffs, and hopefully we can get a big crowd and a good atmosphere," Boxley said. "But we have to take it one game at a time, and we can't win the series at home if we don't win game one first."
Boxley took the Jackets to the playoffs in his first season at the helm last spring. They were eliminated in three games by Burleson.
The winner of this weekend's series will most likely face District 5 champ Aledo in next week's area round. Aledo meets Fort Worth Southwest, the fourth-place finisher from District 6 and a recent 10-0 loser to Stephenville, in bi-district.
Follow SHS in the playoffs on Twitter @etsports