Jackets’ pitching, hitting depth a strength heading in the playoffs

Jay Hinton
For the Empire-Tribune
Stephenville's Lane West, seen here in action earlier in the year against Glen Rose, is hitting at a .348 clip with six doubles, three triples and 25 RBIs.
Stephenville righthander Bryson Dill, seen here in action earlier in the year against Glen Rose, is 8-1 overall with a 1.12 ERA.
The district champion Stephenville Yellowjackets defeated Brownwood 15-8 on Monday night before opening the playoffs on Friday against Vernon.

Editor's note: Some statistics in this story reflect the season prior to Monday's game vs. Brownwood.

STEPHENVILLE — For the first time since 2014, the Stephenville Yellowjackets have won the district crown, and now they are poised to do what they were hoping to do last year — make a deep run in the Class 4A baseball playoffs.

“It’s a feat that hasn’t been done around here in a long time, and we soaked it in for about a week and now the kids have moved and want to focus on making a run to Austin,” Stephenville baseball coach Justin Swenson said. “They completed the first step to our goals and are now on to the next — a bi-district championship.”

The Yellowjackets (18-8, 11-1) open the first round of the playoffs on Friday when they meet Vernon, the fourth-place team from District 5-4A, at 6 p.m. in Graham. Game 2 will be Saturday at 5 p.m., and if necessary, Game 3 would follow at 7 p.m.

“Just like us, they are built around good pitching and defense,” said Swenson. “It’s one of the better four-seeds that a top seed will play in the playoffs. They are well-coached and will not beat themselves.”

The Yellowjackets, who defeated Brownwood 15-8 on Monday night, are hitting on all three phases of the game — pitching, hitting and defense — and if it continues, they could reach Austin.

The Yellowjackets, who enter the contest on a nine-game winning streak, have three pitchers with ERA at 2.40 or better for the year, and two with sub-1.00 ERAs in district contests.

“It’s a coach’s dream to have so many gifted pitchers,” Swenson said. “If one guy has an off night, you’ve got other options to throw out there and know you can still win a game. All of these guys are competitors and want the ball every night.”

Bryson Dill is 8-1 overall with a 1.12 ERA with 56 strikeouts and 22 walks. He’s allowed just 13 runs and only seven were earned. Reece Elston is 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 48 strikeouts, while Trace Morrison is 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA with 31 punchouts. He also has two saves.

“We also have some great bullpen pieces that didn’t get as much work as we’d had liked because the starters went so deep in all their starts,” Swenson said.

Offensively, the Yellowjackets boast a team batting average of .325, the best in six seasons. Seven hitters with 60 or more plate appearances are hitting better than .300 and two are over .400.

“The offense has put up big numbers as well and has scored plenty of runs. We have a very deep lineup and also some weapons on the bench to pinch-hit at any time,” Swenson said.

Morrison (.450) and Elston (.400) are hitting over .400 with Morrison tallying 11 doubles, three triple and 25 RBIs, and Elston has four doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs.

Charlie Hughes is at .377 with seven doubles, two triples and 31 RBIs, and Lane West is hitting at a .348 clip with six doubles, three triples and 25 RBIs. Case Dunavant is hitting .339 with three doubles, a triple and 15 RBIs, and Kyle Styron is hitting .315 with five doubles, a triple and 14 runs driven in.

“We have unselfish hitters that have bought into a team hitting approach and don’t strike out often,” Swenson said. “We don’t hit for a ton of power but have hit a bunch of doubles and triples.”