By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (May 9, 2017) — After sweeping 7-4A district champ Kennedale last week, Stephenville can’t help but see itself as the favorite as the Yellow Jackets (21-7-2) prepare for Sweetwater (12-14) in a Region I-4A area round series.
The best-of-three showdown is set for Crutcher Scott Field on the campus of Abilene Christian University at 4 p.m. Thursday and noon on Friday. If needed, game three begins at noon on Saturday.
“They have a couple live arms on their pitching staff, and that’s what they are about is scratching out wins with pitching and defense,” second-year Stephenville head coach Justin Swenson said of Sweetwater. “But I feel like we are the better team, once again, like I did last week.”
And last week, at least, Swenson was proven correct. Easton Jones quite literally pitched the lights out in game one of that series, with a 54 minute power outage at James T. Young Field immediately following his 12th strikeout in six strong innings. Once the Yellow Jackets had that momentum, they kept it, never trailing in wins of 7-2 and 6-4 in eight innings for their second straight bi-district series win.
“We feel like our pitching staff is strong enough to keep us in the game with anyone,” said Swenson. “Even when our bats are off, we don’t usually look up and find ourselves down more than a run or two.”
And he’s justified by numbers in believing his staff, led by Jones and Caleb Gibbons as the primary starters with Caleb Smith in the closing role and Luke Bullard and Kade Averhoff as primary remaining options, can limit Sweetwater.
The Mustangs, 2-1 single-game bi-district winners over Burkburnett and third-place finishers in District 5-4A, have scored six or more runs only seven times this season. The Jackets, on the other hand, have scored six or more in 13 games.
Stephenville entered last week with Cody Storrs hitting .390 on the season, followed by Aaron Abila at .322 and both Derek Gifford and Trevor Easter at .311. Each of those four boast an on-base percentage above .430. Storrs was 2-for-4 from the plate in both playoff games against Kennedale, while Averhoff had a hit and 2 RBI in each game.
“I feel like we’ve come around and are playing our best baseball now, and that’s what you have to have at this time of year,” said Swenson, who’s club was hamstrung by errors through much of 8-4A play before committing just one last weekend. “It’s a mental thing, Just being focused and sharp on every pitch, every game. If we handle that, we can compete with anyone in the region.”
Swenson is excited to be playing at ACU, even if it means non-ideal start times.
“I don’t know how it will affect our following this week, because I know games on weekdays at 4 p.m. and noon aren’t easy for everyone to get to, but we’re excited for the kids to be playing at a big college stadium and to be playing on turf. There’s security in knowing that unless there is lightning we shouldn’t have any problem getting our games in, because the field’s in great shape, and I think It’s a great place to get to play.”
The winner of the series meets Godley or Graham in the regional quarterfinals next week. They have a three-game series in Mineral Wells and Brock Friday and Saturday. Godley won Stephenville’s district, while Graham is a familiar recent district and playoff foe of the Jackets.