Stephenville baseball handles power Argyle in Region I-4A final for first state tournament
The Stephenville baseball team is headed to the state tournament for the first time in program history, and it had to knock off a state regular and the two-time defending state champion Argyle to do it.
The Yellow Jackets (27-8-1) completed the Region I-4A final sweep with a 6-1 win Thursday night at ACU's Crutcher Scott Field after winning 2-0 in Game 1 on Wednesday in Celina. Stephenville coach Justin Swenson didn't want to get ahead of himself after Wednesday's win, but it was a special moment once the series was clinched.
"I wish I had words for it," Swenson said. "I've spent the last 24 hours trying not to think about it because I didn't want my emotions to get the best of me. I wanted to be in the right mind coming into this game, just like I wanted the kids to have the right mind.
"I told the kids they made a coach's dream come true. I've never been here as a player, I've never been here as an assistant coach and now I get to experience it six years in as a head coach and it's unbelievable."
Slaying the giant
No. 10 Argyle (29-10) won the Class 4A state title in 2019, 2018 and 2015 while finishing as the Class 3A runner-up in 2014, but didn't have an answer for Stephenville.
The Jackets spent the whole season being overlooked. Whether it was because of playing in District 6-4A or their first few playoff opponents. But Stephenville can't be overlooked now.
"That's what's so sweet about it because from the get go it was, 'Ya'll had a weak district,'" Swenson said. "It was, 'The first couple rounds in the playoffs were weak.' We wanted to see the best, those were the champs and we wanted to take the champs down. All do respect to them, they play like champions, but it's Stephenville's year."
Stephenville opened the scoring in the third inning as Reece Elston had an RBI groundout to score Bryson Dill. But the Jackets broke the game open with a five-run fifth inning.
Trace Morrison led the inning off with a triple and scored on Lane West's infield single. After an Elston single, Charlie Hughes hit an RBI double down the third-base line. Dylanger Meiron drove in another run before Corbin Poston was hit with the bases loaded. Bryson Dill capped the inning off with a sacrifice fly, making it a 6-0 game.
"We could all take a deep breath at that point," Swenson said. "Being up one game, we thought we were going to be comfortable, but we were never comfortable. We knew what was on the other side. We strung some hits together at big times and ran the bases well. … It all comes back to a good, experienced ball club."
It allowed Swenson to calm Elston down in the top of the seventh inning when Argyle got some offense going. The Eagles got a leadoff walk and then had a single and another walk, following a pop out, to load the bases.
With a 6-0 lead, Argyle was always more than a swing away from tying the game.
"I told him, 'Six runs is a lot,'" Swenson said. "'I know it feels like there's pressure on us, but six runs is a lot. There's no six-run home runs in this game. Just throw the ball over the plate and let the guys behind you do what they've been doing all night and they'll take care of you. I promise.' Sure enough, they did."
Doing it with defense
From the start, the Stephenville defense showed it wasn't messing around. Left fielder Case Dunavant had to adjust and leap to make a catch in the first inning after losing the ball in the sun.
Third baseman Charlie Hughes made a diving catch on a hard line drive to end the top of the fifth inning. After hitting the leadoff batter in the sixth, Elston snagged a line drive right back to him and threw to first for a double play.
"It was pitching and it was defense," Swenson said. "Tonight, (Argyle) put the ball in play and they put it in play hard. Our defense was standing in the right place for some reason and they made every play and we made them earn everything that they got. Bases loaded, runners at second and third, we've been in every situation."
Even though this is the first time Stephenville has been here before, it's a senior-heavy team. And that means the Jackets have been in just about every situation possible and have grown through those experiences.
"I've got 11 seniors and I credit a lot to that," Swenson said. "Guys that have bought into our program for four years, they've been there and done that and been in that situation before. They do what seniors do."
It didn't just happen though. It was a process over the last four years and now the Jackets are reaping the rewards.
"When they came in as freshman, very raw," Swenson said. "Had baseball talent, but it was a group that bought in. They let us coach them and they let us coach them hard. That's the key thing, they don't take anything personal. I'm a yeller, I can get into their business, but I also like to love on them and hug them when they do it right. Those guys play hard for me and that's what I love them."
Ready for Austin
Stephenville has been a complete team all season. They haven't had to do it with offense, winning in slugfests. And they haven't had to it with shutouts every time out. They've put it all together.
"I can't pinpoint one thing," Swenson said. "We've been so good at everything. We've been at situational (running) on the bases. We've been good getting big hits at big times, we've made plays on defense and we've pitched well. That's a complete game and that's why we're right here."
On the mound, the Jackets have turned to Dill and Elston. In Game 1, Dill worked six shutout innings with three hits and seven strikeouts. Elston followed in Game 2, with a complete game victory, allowing one run on three hits with three strikeouts.
The pair aren't guys on the mound throwing, they're pitchers who have worked on their craft.
"Neither of our guys are going to blow a radar gun up, that's what's so special," Swenson said. "The guys that we're fixing to see in Austin, they're going to be throwing some gas. Our guys, we've got true pitchers. They know how to work the zone in and out, in and out, change up, offspeed, they're true pitchers. They let the ball be put in play and let the defense do it's job."
Stephenville will be joined by Texarkana Pleasant Grove out of Region II and Rusk from Region III along with either Corpus Christi Calallen or Sinton from Region IV. The Class 4A semifinals are at 1 and 4 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Texas' Disch-Falk Field.
And the Jackets are ready for whatever come their way in Austin.
"We've talked about it from Day 1, I don't know if it's a Cinderella story or what you want to call it," Swenson said. "But these guys know how to win. They've been in big situations like (Thursday) and (Wednesday). Against Graham, had to come back with a walk-off. There's not a situation that this group hasn't been in. And the experience factor, heavy senior class, is going to pay off.
"We're going to go down there and we're going to throw some blows and we're going to play it out as long as we can and we're going to leave with a smile on our face."
Jordan Hofeditz covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jhofeditz. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.