As Lake Dallas prepared to take on Lubbock Monterey in the Class 5A Region I semifinals this week, coach Ryan Howard took a few moments to look back at the 13 games the Falcons played March 8 through April 9.
Lake Dallas went 4-9 in those games, including a 4-4 record in District 8-5A play, and lost to Carrollton Newman Smith — a team the Falcons had defeated 10-0 and 8-2 earlier in the year. The Lake Dallas roster had plenty of experience, capable pitching and smart players, but losses continued to pile up.
The team’s bye week in district play April 9-16 proved to be a turning point in the season, setting the stage for the Falcons to make one of the state’s more impressive runs to the region semifinals.
Lake Dallas (20-17) faces Monterey (28-10-1) in a best-of-three series at Abilene Christian, with Game 1 set for 6 p.m. Friday. Game 2 will be at 11 a.m. Saturday with Game 3, if needed, to follow.
“That’s the difference with this team — there wasn’t ever a point in time where I saw guys walk around with their heads down,” Howard said. “Moving into our bye week, we had several guys in our lineup struggling with the bat, but these guys showed up every day ready to get better and knowing that this is baseball — if you can’t handle the downs, then you’re not going to be successful.”
Lake Dallas began to take steps in the right direction by splitting a series against Denton, the eventual district champion. The Falcons lost the first game of a series against Ryan but responded in a must-win game to defeat the Raiders in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff berth.
An 11-0 win over Ryan in a seeding game gave Lake Dallas the No. 3 seed out of 8-5A, and the Falcons are 8-1 in their last nine games after beating Grapevine in three games before sweeping Fort Worth Arlington Heights and Burleson Centennial. Lake Dallas has outscored opponents 56-15 in the last nine games.
“Successful players are mentally tough and can handle the adversity, and it’s all credit to them and our senior leadership for keeping the belief that we can win, we are a good team and we’re one big game or hit from breaking out and going on a run,” Howard said. “You have to trust that the hits are coming and the better baseball is on the way, and our guys did that. That’s what has been more fun than anything — watching high school kids fight through adversity and be rewarded for fighting with the attitudes they have.”
The Falcons have had more success on offense, but it’s their pitching that has been the most impressive during the postseason run, as Ryan Depperschmidt, Cade McCollum and Ben Price have been nothing short of dominant. The trio has held playoff opponents to 14 runs in seven games.
The Falcons knew they had the leadership to bounce back and get to the regional semifinals, and the team is riding the shoulders of an experienced pitching staff.
Monterey put together a run of upsets of its own to set up this week’s matchup. The Plainsmen finished third in District 3-5A before getting hot. Monterey swept Aledo, El Paso Ysleta and Lubbock Coronado in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The winner will advance to play Amarillo or Colleyville Heritage in the regional finals next week with a trip to the 5A state tournament on the line.
“Our guys are very confident,” Howard said. “The way our staff has pitched, I don’t know if you can tell anybody that we have a true No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3. They’ve all stepped up and thrown well when the pressure has been on, and they can’t wait to get the ball in their hands again.”