Sunnyvale takes on No. 1 Brock with trip to state tournament on the line
Sunnyvale has conquered every obstacle in its path so far this season.
But although the Raiders are in uncharted waters by making it to the Class 2A Region II championship for the first time in school history, they do know one thing for sure and that is this obstacle will be the toughest one yet.
After taking down Gunter in a best-of-3 series last week, Sunnyvale (29-5) will try to put it all together for a one-game showdown against Brock on Thursday (31-1) at 8 p.m. at LaGrave Field in Fort Worth.
The Raiders are ranked sixth in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 2A state poll, while Brock is the No. 1 team in the state.
"They have a good team like they do every year, but we feel like we have a good team, too," Sunnyvale head coach Tim Arden said. "It is definitely going to be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it."
After playing in best-of-3 series in the previous rounds, a one-game, winner-take-all contest with a trip to the state tournament on the line certainly amps up the pressure.
But despite having never been this deep in the postseason before, Arden said he is confident the moment won't overwhelm his team.
One of the reasons that Sunnvyale has reached this point has been the depth of its pitching staff. Jake Wilcox has pitched the opener in each of the last three series and he tossed a one-hitter in the opening 4-0 victory over Gunter last week.
But in a game of this magnitude, it would not be out of the question to see Wilcox, Mason Goodin and Will Moss--the three normal starters--each get called upon depending on how the games plays out.
"That was one of the gutsiest performances I have seen (last week against Gunter). The field at McKinney Boyd was in bad shape and there was a hole down off the mound where Jake usually makes his stride, so he had to make an adjustment right before the game and he was still able to go out there and do the job, which was impressive," Arden said. "But we feel good about any of those guys getting the ball."
The biggest question for Brock might be how to handle pitching to Zach Metzger. After Metzger belted a home run in the series opener, Gunter decided they were not going to let him beat them.
Metzger was intentionally walked his next four plate appearances. Gunter did pitch to him once in game two, and Metzger hit a pair of long shots that cleared the wall but drifted foul before eventually walking. He drew an intentional pass in final four plate appearances of the series, scoring five runs in all.
"It is really a luxury having him hitting in that three spot," Arden said. "If they are going to put him on every time, we feel like we have the other hitters that can make them pay. It is really up to that other team to decide what they want to do, but having a guy like that on our team certainly makes life a lot easier for us."
Arden said prior to the start of the playoffs that top to bottom, the lineup is as good as he has had and his team as backed up that statement.
For as big of a threat as Metzger and other hitters are at the top of the lineup, the most dangerous bat of late has been Devin DeLeon's.
Hitting out of the eighth spot in the lineup, DeLeon had two triples and a home run in the sweep of Corsicana Mildred in the regional quarterfinals. Last week, he had a two-run, opposite field home run in game two and also added a double and triple in the series.
Getting that kind of production from the bottom of the order gives Sunnyvale offensive depth that is hard to match.
"I think he (DeLeon) has always had it in him," Arden said. "He played on the junior varsity last year and I think finally getting those reps and the batting practice this year, it has finally all soaked in. He is a great athlete and he is having a heck of a playoffs."
With all that is at stake on Thursday, Sunnyvale does not need any additional motivation. But while it has not been a driving point, they are hoping a recent trend continues.
All season long, the Raiders have taken down a previous nemesis in achieving their goals.
During the regular season, Sunnyvale swept 13-2A rival Palmer to reclaim their district championship. In their first two playoff series, the Raiders defeated Franklin, who knocked them out of the postseason last year, and Corsicana Mildred, a team it had never beaten in five meetings prior to this season.
Sunnyvale did not have a tie to last week's opponent, Gunter, but Arden did, as it was Gunter that knocked his Krum team out of the playoffs in his final season coaching at the school.
Up next is Brock, who just so happens to be the team that knocked the Raiders out in the regional semifinals two years ago in what was then their deepest playoff journey.
If Sunnyvale can continue the trend and exorcise one more demon, they can punch their ticket to the state tournament for the first time in school history.
"Even when we lost to Brock two years ago, I knew this was a special group and now they are older and more experienced," Arden said. "These guys believe they can go out and play against anybody and that they can compete and the can win. I don't think there is going to be any intimidation whatsoever, we're going to be confident and we're going to go play our game."