The Stephenville Yellow Jackets baseball team was highly ranked earlier this season, and their strength will get the ultimate test in the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Justin Swenson’s Yellow Jackets had been ranked as high as fourth in the state in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Class 4A poll earlier this season.
They finished District 7-4A play Friday with a 2-1 home victory over Glen Rose at James T. Young Baseball Field. But Godley, a state semifinalist last season, surged into second place by beating Brownwood Friday, then topping Glen Rose in a one-game district playoff on Saturday.
The Jackets ended up as the fourth-place team in the five-team alignment. The top four teams advance to postseason play.
Swenson said an accidental oversight on the pitch count for one SHS player during the Jackets’ 5-3 win at Godley on April 12 turned into a forfeit. SHS self-reported the infraction and the other three district coaches (Mineral Wells, Brownwood and Glen Rose) voted for the forfeit penalty.
The district champion was Brownwood at 6-2, followed by Godley at 6-3 with the district playoff win over third-place and Glen Rose (5-4), then Stephenville at 3-4 and Mineral Wells at 0-7.
Swenson had been away from the team for Thursday’s game against Mineral Wells in Glen Rose on a far more important assignment at the hospital in Stephenville.
Shortly after 11 p.m. on Thursday, Swenson’s wife Karter gave birth to their third child (all boys), Macen Swenson.
That means SHS (20-6-1 overall) has the task of taking on District 8-4A winner Argyle — the defending state champion, ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation earlier this season. The Eagles became only the fifth school in University Interscholastic League baseball history to have an undefeated season (37-0) before going on to win 66 of their last 68 games.
And with almost all of their key players back this season and multiple college recruits, the 29-1-1 Eagles are expected by many to win back-to-back titles.
Swenson and his Yellow Jackets are not among those expecting the Eagles to repeat. The fourth-year coach said the Eagles most certainly have more pressure on them — and his Yellow Jackets have enough veteran leadership to know how to approach their best-of-three bi-district series at Brock High School.
Game 1 is set for Thursday, followed by Game 2 on Friday — both starting at 7:30 p.m. If a third game is needed, it’s scheduled for 2 p.m., also in Brock.
Stephenville has a talented and playoff-forged group of 11 seniors who were honored on Senior Night last Friday before their final home game. They are Cade Dunavant, Trevor Easter, Derek Gifford, Anthony Wehnert, Caleb Smith, Gabe Moore, Mason Castleberry, Cody Storrs, Paul Lettunich, Gage Graham and Mitch Tennyson.
“We’ve played some common opponents and had some similar scores,” said Swenson, who is leading the team into the playoffs for the fourth time — every year he has been head coach. “We’re preaching that if our pitchers throw strikes and we play good defense, we’ll be in the ballgames. We’re prepared for whoever we play. I think we’re excited for the challenge. We have to beat them, whether it’s in round one or round three.”
The Jackets will get a boost with the return of first baseman/pitcher Gabe Moore, who was sidelined for the last couple of weeks. Moore was injured in a fluke accident when he was struck in the head by a foul ball during a junior varsity game.
The winner of the Argyle-Stephenville series will advance to the second (area) round against either Snyder or Graham.
Moore’s .371 season batting average is second only to Trevor Easter’s .377 mark among the team’s regular starters. Trace Morrison is next at .347, and Cody Storrs is fourth at .330.
Moore’s 21 runs batted in leads SHS, followed by Tyeler Reed’s 18 and Derek Gifford with 15.
Daniel Luna and Gage Graham each have two home runs out of the Jackets’ team total of six.
Four of Stephenville’s pitchers are unbeaten — Daniel Luna at 5-0, Gifford at 3-0 and Moore and Kendal Storrs at 2-0. Caleb Smith is tied for the team lead in wins, at 5-2, and Mason Castleberry is 3-2.
In 38-1/3 innings, Smith leads the SHS in earned run average at 1.096. Luna is not far back, with a 1.267 ERA, followed by Kendal Storrs at 1.909.
Luna leads the team in strikeouts, with 51 through his team-leading 38-2/3 innings pitched.
BEATING GLEN ROSE
Friday’s 2-1 win gave the Jackets a sweep of both district matchups against the Tigers — both by one run. Pitching ruled this time, as the Jackets managed just three hits and the Tigers could muster only two.
Luna was the winning pitcher, working all seven innings and striking out 12 and walking only three. The Tigers' run was unearned.
Graham recorded the only RBI for the Jackets, going 1-for-3, while Luna went 1-for-2 at the plate and Easter was 1-for-3.
Glen Rose had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning, but the Jackets managed to get both of their runs in the bottom of that frame.