ARGYLE — Few teams in the country have the talent from top to bottom that Argyle, No. 2 in the USA Today Super 25 Expert Rankings, possesses.
The Eagles boast 10 players either committed to or signed with Division I programs, often leaving one high-level college prospect on the bench when the team takes the field.
That talent gives Argyle a significant edge on its opponents at the Class 4A level, and the Eagles have 14 seniors on their roster, six of whom have played impactful roles since they were freshmen.
Brenden Dixon (Texas), Dillon Carter (Texas Tech), Preston King (Texas Rio Grande Valley), Austin King (UTRGV), Sean Bolin (Utah) and Hayden Clearman (Abilene Christian) were all members of Argyle’s 2016 team that went 28-6 and lost in the Region II final to Texarkana Pleasant Grove.
Add in Chad Ricker (Texas-San Antonio), who made his debut as a sophomore in 2017, and Argyle has unmatched experience and leadership — in addition to the talent — from its seniors.
“Their freshman year, they were pretty wide-eyed and taking it all in,” Argyle coach Ricky Griffin said. “As sophomores, ability-wise, they started to grow up and were able to really handle varsity baseball at a high level. As juniors, because we didn’t have a lot of seniors, a lot of them took on a leadership role last year.
“Most of them have played together since they were younger, so they have a close friendship. They feed off each other and they’re very competitive. There haven’t been a lot of groups that come through here that put as much pressure on themselves as this class has.”
That senior class will continue to put pressure on itself as it looks to repeat as state champions — a journey that will continue this week as the Eagles (35-1-1) play a best-of-three series against Canyon (22-9-1) at Abilene Christian.
Game 1 will be at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Game 2 at 6 p.m. Thursday and Game 3, if necessary, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Canyon, in its first season at the 4A level after dropping down from Class 5A in the UIL’s realignment last spring, is coming off a 15-3, 7-5 sweep of Pampa in the regional quarterfinals. Canyon has outscored its opponents 82-16 in six playoff games after winning the District 3-4A championship.
Canyon’s high-powered offense is led by Brett Cobb, who has 11 home runs on the season, and Clay Arthro, who has 10 homers. Seniors Cade Olson and Zane Sparks are the team’s top pitchers.
“It’s always exciting to get to play a new team you’ve never played before,” Dixon said. “We’ve never seen these guys. It’s always fun, especially when it’s a really, really good team. This will be one of the better teams we’ve played, and we’re excited. Hopefully things go right this week — we have a lot of energy.”
Argyle has won 24 straight games, and the Eagles have won 16 straight playoff games dating back to last season when they won the 4A championship.
Argyle obliterated Brownwood in the regional quarterfinals and appears to be firing on all cylinders after outscoring the Lions 33-1 in two games.
Ricker, who threw a no-hitter in Game 1 against Brownwood and had three home runs in the series, enters the week hitting .323 with 32 RBIs while holding a 9-0 record with 85 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings on the mound.
Dixon is hitting .356 with 43 RBIs, 35 runs and five home runs, while Carter (.417, 50 runs, 23 RBIs, four home runs) and Preston King (.366, 46 runs, 21 RBIs, four home runs) have also been efficient at the top of the order.
“It was a sign of relief to see everyone turn it on last week,” Dixon said. “We can’t wait until the fifth inning to get rolling, especially this week. The way we played against Brownwood was a sign of everyone realizing it’s time, and hopefully that continues on to this week.”
While it’s been several years since Argyle and Canyon last met on the diamond, there is a bit of history between the programs. In Griffin’s first year as head coach, the Eagles advanced to the playoffs for the first time and defeated Breckenridge before falling to Canyon — and current Canyon coach John Doan — in the area round.
Griffin and Doan now meet again 12 years later, with the winner advancing to the Region I finals to play Iowa Park or Hereford.
“They got after us a little bit the last time we played,” Griffin said. “Coach Doan is one of the humblest guys you’ll ever be around. He’s a great guy, and he’s really easy to get along with. They swing the bat well 1 through 9, and this is probably the best team we’ve played since pre-district.”