By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (May 17, 2017) — By the end of their Region I-4A quarterfinal series this weekend, No. 7 Godley (24-3-1) and Stephenville (23-7-2) could very well have a combined 50 wins on the season.
But only one of them will continue playing next week.
The series unfolds at Brock High School beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday. Game two starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with game three, if needed, at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Stephenville has to try and cool one of the hottest teams in Texas to keep alive its own undefeated run trough the playoffs. Godley has won 10 straight games and 21 of its last 22 following a 3-2-1 start to the season. The Wildcats last lost in a 1-0 pitcher’s duel at Midlothian Heritage on April 4, and each win since has been by at least three runs.
Not to be outdone, the Yellow Jackets have won six straight games dating back to its final district contest against Glen Rose. They followed that with a playoff prep win over Dublin, and have rolled ever since, sweeping 7-4A district champ Kennedale, 7-2 and 6-4 in eight innings, in bi-district, followed by a 10-5 and 8-6 sweep of Sweetwater in last week’s area round.
Godley was district champ in 8-4A, which also includes Stephenville and Alvarado, another regional quarterfinalist that faces perennial power Abilene Wylie this weekend. Midlothian Heritage was second, Alvardo third and Stephenville fourth in 8-4A. Heritage was eliminated when Wylie score four runs in the seventh inning for a 6-5 game two win and area-round sweep.
“The goal was to just get in from our district. It’s a powerhouse district and very deep,” said Justin Swenson, who boasts a playoff record of 7-2 in two seasons as head coach at Stephenville. “That deep district has prepared us for these playoff games. Tight games to the end are nothing out of the ordinary for us because every game it seems like came down to the last outs in district play. We’ve seen big hitters, great pitchers, some of the best defensive guys in the state, a little bit of everything. Nothing should surprise us now.”
Stephenville has enjoyed two recurring themes throughout its win streak – early leads and strong starting pitching.
Quality game one starts by junior right hander Easton Jones helped Stephenville seize momentum in each playoff series. He struck out 12 in game one against Kennedale and tossed a complete game to open the sweep of Sweetwater.
The Jackets came back with senior southpaw Caleb Gibbons in game two each round, and he’s been effective as well. He earned the win after battling his way through 4.2 innings against Sweetwater after taking a lead into the sixth inning at Kennedale.
“Easton has been pitching to contact early in games and trusting the defense to make plays behind him. That’s what enabled him pitch the complete game last week,” Swenson explained. “Caleb is just being Caleb with that big looping curve ball that keeps batters off balance and makes his 78 or 79 mile per hours fast ball look more like 85.”
And then there are the Godley starters who have led the way to bi-district wins of 11-0 and 14-2 over Benbrook followed by area-round victories of 7-3 and 4-1 over Graham.
Senior Brett Brown has been verbally committed for two years to Texas A&M, and sophomore Chase Lummus has already verbally promised his services Texas. Together they form one of the most formidable starting duos in Texas, regardless of classification, as evidenced by allowing just four runs in four playoff games and only 14 runs during the ongoing 10-game win streak.
“Brown is a little more overwhelming than anyone else we’ve seen all year,” said Swenson. “He throws in he mid to upper 80s and he has a hard slider that’s pretty effective. He’s a three-pitch guy who can also throw a change-up at any time.
“Lummus is left handed, so that’s always tough, just like it is on teams facing ‘Gibby,’” Swenson added. “He throws in the low 80s and has a good, sweeping curve ball as well as one of the best pick off moves by a left hander I’ve seen in high school in a long time. He tries to keep you honest and from getting big leads and stealing bases, but that’s our style so we’ll go after him until he proves he can get us out.”
Then there is the Bobby Goodloe factor. Swenson says Goodloe may actually be Godley’s No. 1 pitcher if not for an arm injury and calls the middle infielder their best all-around player. He says Goodloe will play short stop if Brown is pitching with Brown at shortstop and Goodloe at second base when Lummas starts.
“Goodloe was hurt, but I’ve heard he is good to go if they need him,” said Swenson. I imagine if we win game one we may see him in game two, or if we go to a game three he might be the starter then. I’m not sure how they will play that out.”
Swenson does expect to see Brown on the hill in game one after he beat the Jackets twice in district play.
Stephenville faced Brown twice in district play, when Godley swept Stephenville, 5-3 and 5-1, as part of its district title run. He struck out 10 Jacket batters and yielded just five hits in the second matchup after gong 5.1 innings with five strikeouts while navigating around five walks and two hits in their first meeting. Goodloe finished that Godley win with 2.2 shutout innings in relief.
The vaunted Godley staff will be facing a Stephenville team that Swenson says is hitting the best it has all season.
“We’ve been swinging the bats as well as we have all year and we aren’t going to be scared of anybody,” he said. “We’re going to be aggressive when we get runners on and try to apply pressure so they aren’t too comfortable out there.”
Stephenville has been led from the dish by Cody Storrs, a sophomore outfielder and catcher with an average approaching .400. He was batting .390 at the end of he regular season and has since had at least two hits in each of the four playoff wins.
“Cody is our catalyst. He hit in the two hole for me last year as a freshman and all this year before the playoffs, primarily because in addition to being a great hitter he is our best bunter,” Swenson explained. “But we looked at his average and on-base percentage and decided to move him to leadoff and he seems to be excelling even more than in the two hole. If we get him on, we’re dangerous.”
Stores was 3-for-5 and 2-for-4 against Sweetwater, while Seth Heupel was 2-for-4 in game one and Caleb Gibbons was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles. Kade Averhoff had an RBI in each game of the series, and Derek Gifford was 2-for-4 to drive in two runs in game two.
“We’ve kind of put all three phases together. We’re pitching well, swinging the bats well and playing pretty good defense,” said Swenson. “That gives you a good chance to win.”
Whoever comes out alive will move on to the regional semifinals against Midland Greenwood or Pampa.
“We’re going to have to play our best baseball, but that’s always what you have to do to win at this time of the year,” Swenson said. “There are no easy wins anymore. It’s the third round of the playoffs, you don’t get here without being pretty good.”