When Argyle and La Vernia take the field in Wednesday’s Class 4A state semifinal game at 4 p.m. at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, the Eagles will be heavy favorites against a team few expected to advance out of Region IV last weekend.
Argyle is making its fourth state tournament appearance since 2014, is the defending 4A state champion, has won 75 of its last 77 games and has outscored playoff opponents 92-7 in nine games this year. La Vernia will be playing in its first state tournament after stunning Liberty Hill in the 4A Region IV final, when the Bears won Games 2 and 3 after falling in the opener.
The Eagles have a clear advantage in pedigree and experience in Austin, but Argyle has no plans to overlook what is sure to be a fired-up and upset-minded La Vernia team Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re going to be a good team,” Argyle pitcher Chad Ricker said. “They’re an underdog, but that makes them kind of dangerous because they’ll come out playing scrappier than a lot of teams. I’m excited — we’re just trying to go out and get that win to get us to the championship and see what we can do from there.”
Ricker, a UTSA commit, will again get the start on the mound for the Eagles with the season on the line, and he enters the week having thrown 21 consecutive hitless innings. Ricker is 5-0 in the playoffs with 32 strikeouts and a 0.87 ERA, allowing a total of just eight hits in 31 innings.
While Ricker didn’t make a start in the playoffs last season, he has experience pitching in the state tournament after entering last year’s semifinal game out of the bullpen. Ricker threw two innings of relief in a 14-4 win over Jasper, allowing three hits and one earned run with three strikeouts.
“In my opinion, you don’t go down there and try to save anything,” Argyle coach Ricky Griffin said. “You have to try to get to the state championship. You just do. If we’re fortunate enough to win the first one, I love the fact that we have Sean Bolin waiting to pitch the state championship game.”
La Vernia, which is 28-11 on the season, is expected to start senior pitcher Clayton Chadwick, who is 5-0 and has a 2.24 ERA. Chadwick signed with Sam Houston State and is hitting .434 with 17 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 42 RBIs.
In a 5-2 Game 2 win over Liberty Hill, Chadwick went 6 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on five hits and five walks while striking out three. Chadwick, who is a three-year starter on the diamond, also shined on the football field as a quarterback for La Vernia, posting 3,732 total yards and 54 touchdowns last fall.
Senior catcher Easton Parrish, a Panola Junior College signee, hits behind Chadwick in the cleanup hole and is batting .377 with 11 doubles, seven triples and 37 RBIs.
“They swing the bats well and they’re pretty dangerous throughout the lineup,” Ricker said. “Underdog teams usually have a little magic, so hopefully I can just dominate on the mound and keep them from getting any momentum going.”
The winner of Wednesday’s semifinal will play either Kilgore or Sweeny in the state championship game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Kilgore and Sweeny will take the field in the first semifinal at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
The Eagles, who survived their first elimination game of the season in a 2-0 win over Iowa Park last week, hope that experience will carry over to this week as the team looks to complete its quest to claim back-to-back state championships for the first time in school history.
“The biggest thing is we just have to go there and do what we do,” Griffin said. “We’re going to go and play our game, and hopefully get good pitching, good defense and timely hitting the way we have been. We know every team down there is going to be really solid, or they wouldn’t have made it that far.
“We’re just going to try to play our best on Wednesday to give ourselves a chance to play on Thursday.”
Bottom of the order continues to shine
When the top half of Argyle’s batting order struggled in the early part of last Wednesday’s 4A Region I final against Iowa Park, the team’s three juniors in the starting lineup — Alex Gonzales, Cade Merka and Bo Hogeboom — knew they were going to have to do their part to help the Eagles get on the board.
Gonzales came through with a triple and a solo home run, while Merka poked an RBI single to score the first run of the game. Hogeboom, who bats ninth in the lineup, added one of the team’s eight hits.
Merka has a team-high 12 RBIs in the playoffs and is hitting .429 in the postseason, while Gonzales (.435 BA, 10 RBIs, 13 runs) and Hogeboom (.278 BA, 10 RBIs) also continue to come through in a big way late in the year.
“In the first inning, if we’re not doing as well as we’d like to be doing, we know we have to come up big,” Merka said. “We want to try to start something and try to get something going for everybody else.”
At last year’s state tournament, Merka and Gonzales shined to help Argyle cap off its undefeated season with a state title. Gonzales was 3-for-4 in the semifinal against Jasper with four RBIs and Merka was 2-for-3 and knocked in a run. In the state final, Merka was 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Gonzales was 0-for-1 with an RBI and a walk.
“They’ve been huge,” Griffin said. “Even though they’re juniors, they’re veterans. They were on the field at the state championship game last year on the field we’re about to play on. I think they draw from that. The situations are never too big because they’ve been in the biggest situation you can be in in high school baseball. I love having those kids at the bottom of the lineup.
“They take it upon themselves. If we’re struggling at the top, they feel like they have to make a difference at the bottom.”
Familiarity with Sweeny, Kilgore
While La Vernia is an unfamiliar opponent for Argyle, Sweeny and Kilgore are teams the Eagles defeated during their historic run last year.
Argyle swept Kilgore in the 4A Region II final last year to secure its spot in the state tournament, and the Eagles defeated Sweeny 5-0 in the state championship game.
Argyle and La Vernia will have an opportunity to see Kilgore and Sweeny play before taking the field Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it’s going to help out a lot,” Argyle center fielder Dillon Carter said of the team’s familiarity with Kilgore and Sweeny. “A few of us went to watch Kilgore play, so we know what they’re about. Sweeny is obviously always good. We know there are two good ball clubs on the other side, so that’s going to make it an exciting week.”
Carter, Dixon focused on title, not MLB Draft
The 2019 Major League Baseball first-year player draft began Monday night with the first two rounds, while rounds 3-10 will begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday and rounds 11-40 will take place Wednesday.
Carter, a Texas Tech signee, and Brenden Dixon, a Texas signee, are among those who have the potential to be drafted at some point during the week but said they are focused on closing out their high school careers on a high note first.
Both Carter and Dixon expressed excitement about playing for their future collegiate teams, where they’re expected to make an immediate impact next year. Liberty Christian’s Kason Howell was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 20th round of last year’s draft but decided to stick with his commitment to Auburn, where he has starred in center field for the Tigers.
“It’s not something I’m focused on at all right now,” Carter said. “I know where I’m going to college, and I’m excited to go be a Red Raider. I’ll keep up with it a little bit, but there’s nothing like having a gold medal around your neck, and that’s the main thing that’s on my mind.”
UIL State Baseball Tournament schedule
1A semifinals, Dell Diamond in Round Rock
New Home (19-2) vs. Wells (16-8), 9 a.m.
D’Hanis (23-4) vs. Dodd City (19-5), noon
2A semifinals, Dell Diamond
Valley Mills (28-6) vs. Linden-Kildare (20-9), 4 p.m.
Dallardsville Big Sandy (34-4) vs. Albany (23-7), 7 p.m.
4A semifinals, UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin
Kilgore (32-7) vs. Sweeny (30-9), 1 p.m.
Argyle (38-1-1) vs. La Vernia (28-11), 4 p.m.
1A championship, 9 a.m. at Dell Diamond
2A championship, noon at Dell Diamond
4A championship, 6:30 p.m. at UFCU Disch-Falk Field
5A semifinals, Dell Diamond
Colleyville Heritage (37-3) vs. Corsicana (29-10), 4 p.m.
Georgetown (40-4-1) vs. Mission Sharyland Pioneer (37-8), 7 p.m.
3A semifinals, Dell Diamond
Wall (37-1) vs. Kirbyville (33-7-1), 9 a.m.
Blanco (32-4) vs. Van Alstyne (29-5), noon
6A semifinals, Dell Diamond
Fort Bend Ridge Point (32-4-1) vs. McKinney Boyd (31-14), 4 p.m.
6A semifinals: Austin Lake Travis (37-4) vs. Southlake Carroll (31-11), 7 p.m.
3A championship, 9 a.m. at Dell Diamond
5A championship, noon at Dell Diamond
6A championship, 4 p.m. at Dell Diamond