Stephenville has matched its deepest baseball playoff run in school history, equaling the 2009 team's march through the area round to the regional quarterfinals.
Now, the 2012 Yellow Jackets prepare to state their case as the best team to don Stephenville blue and gold. Standing in the way is Cleburne, another team of Jackets, and one that has defeated Stephenville once this season.
The teams begin their best of three series at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cleburne, followed by Game 2 at 7 p.m. Friday in Stephenville and Game 3, if needed, at noon Saturday at Veterans Stadium in Waco. The winner faces Wichita Falls Rider or Canyon Randall in next week's regional semifinals when only 16 teams will remain in contention.
How much stock can be put in Cleburne's 2-1 extra-inning home victory in Stephenville's final pre-district tuneup?
"None. The wind was blowing 40 miles per hour straight in and both teams struggled to get hits and runners," said second-year Stephenville head coach James Boxley. "I don't see how anything from that game can affect what's going to happen this weekend."
Trent Morrison pitched all nine innings of that Stephenville loss, touching off an impressive stretch in which the senior ace has gone the distance in eight of nine starts. It may have reached nine straight in last week's 5-0 area-round shutout of Aledo, but Morrison was pulled after two scoreless innings in a playoff prep game at Lorena.
Morrison will be the Game 1 starter for Stephenville. He confirmed last week he has made a verbal commitment to accept a baseball scholarship from NCAA Division II Texas-Permian Basin in Odessa.
"It's going to be Trent in Game 1," said Boxley. "After that, it all just depends on the results. We'll see what happens in Game 1 before deciding how to approach the rest of the series."
Stephenville had a three-game bi-district series with Mansfield Summit in which Morrison, Brian Picha and Tyler Floyd all went the distance. Picha and Floyd are also seniors. Along with Morrison and first baseman/relief pitcher Connor Washington, the Yellow Jackets have four three-year starters.
Boxley predicts a tight series, and believes intangibles could make the difference.
"It's going to be tight, I know that," Boxley said. "The team that can get the timely base hits and take advantage of its scoring opportunities is going to be the one that advances.
"The main thing at this time of year is to check with the guys daily and make sure they are staying hungry and staying prepared to play their best baseball," added Boxley, who has been to the state tournament as head coach at Forney. "There are a million different things going on with the school year ending and summer starting, so it takes a lot of hunger and focus."
His daily take from the Jackets has been promising.
"Our kids do seem ready. Best I can tell, they are hungry and focused and want this opportunity," he said.
With eight teams remaining in the Region I bracket, Boxley believes anyone can come out of the field.
"It's all good teams that are left at this point," he said. "In baseball, it's all about being the team that shows up focused and ready and plays its best each time out."
Follow the series and Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports