Yellow Jackets poised to make another deep playoff run

By Jay Hinton
Stephenville Empire-Tribune

STEPHENVILLE — After wrapping with the school’s first-ever back-to-back district titles, the Stephenville Yellow Jackets are poised to make another deep run in the Class 4A baseball playoffs.

The Yellow Jackets return a handful of key members of the 2021 team that finished 29-9-1 l and made it all the way to the state semifinals.

“We have five players that have in-game playoff experience, and a bunch of others that experienced the playoff run last season,” Stephenville baseball coach Justin Swenson said. “It's very beneficial in where each of these kids have played on the biggest high school stage and know what it takes on and off the field to make a playoff run.”

Stephenville’s Reece Elston started and struck out five of the first nine hitters he faced during Friday's final regular-season game and Senior Night against Brownwood. The District 6-4A champion Yellow Jackets will open the Class 4A playoffs Thursday night when they host Burkburnett (14-8, 5-5) - the No. 4 team in District 5-4A.

At the plate, the Yellow Jackets are led by Corbin Poston (.387, 9 doubles, 21 RBIs) and Dylanger Meiron (.348, 8 doubles, 18 RBIs), and on the mound Reece Elston, who has a no-hitter to his name this year, is 6-2 with a 1.06 ERA with 82 strikeouts, and Luke Heller is 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA with 31 punch outs.

The Yellow Jackets finished the year 17-9-1 overall and 9-3 in District 6-4A play, but they enter Thursday’s playoff opener on a two-game losing streak, but Swenson isn’t pushing the panic button.

“When you drop a few games you always worry that things are headed south, but I know that when the playoff lights turn on we will show up to play,” he said. “We just need to have a few big hits or plays go our way early in the series and we will start to get that feeling again. At this point in the year, you're just searching for wins no matter what it looks like. Survive and advance. I expect senior leadership and experience to take over and we will be just fine.”

The Yellow Jackets host Burkburnett at 7 p.m. on Thursday, and Swenson is first to admit that the Bulldogs aren’t a typical No. 4 seed.

“The district champion usually does not meet up with a team with this good of a winning record (16-8) in the first round,” Swenson said. “They can play some ball. They have a solid pitching rotation that will keep hitters off balance. They have a head coach who has won a state championship and lots of playoff baseball experience. We expect to be in close games and know we have to execute in all phases to advance. We look forward to the challenge and are ready to get rolling.”

Swenson is hoping his team will adopt the same attitude they had last year in going five rounds deep before losing to Pleasant Grove.

“Have fun, play loose and enjoy each moment,” Swenson said he will tell his team before first pitch on Thursday. “Playoff baseball in Texas is as good as it gets, and the competition is solid no matter what round you're playing in. If you pitch well and play solid defense, you are very tough to beat, and we can do both of those things when we are on top of our game.”

Game 2 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Burkburnett, and if necessary, Game 3 will be Saturday at 5 p.m. at Bowie High School.