Three of Sherman’s six seniors — David Bedgood, Brayshon Savage and Jack LeCrone — were freshman varsity starters the last time the Bearcats reached the playoffs.
In that 2014 series, Bedgood was lights-out at the plate, going a combined 5-for-6 with a sacrifice fly in the final two games as the Bearcats extended No. 6-ranked Hallsville to a third game in their best-of-three bi-district series.
Little did those then-freshmen know they would spend the next two seasons in the wilderness against one of the best Class 5A districts in the state from top to bottom.
But in a new district for 2017, everything finally clicked — and the Bearcats (18-10) are back in the big dance, taking on Fort Worth Brewer in a best-of-three 5A Region I bi-district series that begins tonight at Lake Dallas at 7 p.m.
“It feels good, getting an opportunity to play after the regular season,” Bedgood said. “Anything can happen in baseball. We got the No. 2 seed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play as deep as we want to play.
“We don’t have much playoff experience,” Bedgood added, “but these guys have played baseball for a long time, and they’re going to be amped-up and ready to go.”
Games 2 and 3, if necessary, are set for Saturday at noon.
Those three four-year starters form the top of Sherman’s lineup — Bedgood batting leadoff, with centerfielder Savage batting second and leftfielder LeCrone batting third, with another senior, third baseman Blaine Bethel, batting cleanup.
They’ve paid their dues, with a seventh-place finish in the former District 10-5A in 2015 and a distant fifth-place finish in 2016.
“It’s obviously something we’ve put a ton of work into,” Sherman head coach Justin Jennings said. “We knew this group was a special group when they played as much as they did when they were younger. We knew after their freshman year we’d have a chance at some point.”
Bedgood, who has signed with Tulane University, has quite some pop in his bat with a team-high five homers, a batting average of more than .400 and an on-base percentage north of .500.
Bedgood’s presence on the base paths gives follow-on batters Savage, LeCrone and Bethel lots of opportunities for RBIs. LeCrone drove in three runs a week and a half ago at Wichita Falls, and Bethel gave the Bearcats a 1-0 eight-inning walk-off against Denton Ryan, plating Bedgood on an infield single.
“It’s nice (batting second),” Savage said. “It gives me an opportunity every time (Bedgood) gets on the bag. My job is to move him over. If he happens to get out, my job is to make the pitcher work and find my way to the bag.”
Others in the lineup have come through at times for the Bearcats. For instance, junior second baseman Ben Cross batted 2-for-3 with four RBI and two runs scored in Friday night’s regular-season-closing 12-2 run-rule win against Denison. At the bottom of the lineup, junior designated hitter Harrison Key had two hits and helped set the table for a six-RBI night for Bedgood in a playoff-clinching win at Denton Braswell.
After a tough tournament slate and a district-opening loss to Wichita Falls Rider that saw the Bearcats get off to a 7-9 start, they enter the playoffs on a roll, having won 11 of their last 12. The only blemishes on their record are a pair of hard-fought losses to the state-ranked Raiders — losses which, Jennings said, opened the team’s eyes.
“When (Rider) came here the first game of district, we played pretty poorly defensively and let the game get away from us,” Jennings said. “We had a couple of players hurt who didn’t play, but we don’t want to use that as an excuse.
“We got going after that and we felt we were at worst the No. 2 seed, and we went to Rider and gave them a good game but didn’t make a couple of plays defensively, and they beat us. After that, we wanted to make sure nobody else beat us, and we did that.”
Sherman’s two senior aces, Connor Hughes and Bedgood, are set for Games 1 and 2 respectively. Each finished district play with 5-1 records. Hughes, a Grayson College signee, will start Game 1 tonight, with Bedgood set to take the mound on Saturday at noon for Game 2.
“We’re not going to switch anything up,” Bedgood said. “We’ll play them straight up and see what happens.”
Hughes’ only live action in the last two weeks was three innings in an easy 12-2 six-inning win at Wichita Falls on April 25, so he’s very well-rested.
“After a bullpen (Tuesday) I feel really good,” Hughes said. “I’m feeling confident about Friday night. The last game I pitched a lot was Denton Ryan; that was eight innings. My arm feels a lot better with time to rest.”
Should the series go to a third game later Saturday, Jennings is still weighing his options. He has two good ones in Key and Bethel.
“We hate to change a good thing that’s working for us,” Jennings said. “We’ll probably stick to that, but myself and the staff have talked about a couple of different scenarios. We’re going to do what’s best for the kids and what puts them in the best position to be successful.”
Brewer (19-10) finished third in District 6-5A, losing to Aledo on Saturday in a tiebreaker game. The Bears had a chance to avoid a tie and gave district champion Justin Northwest a battle on Friday, falling 4-3.
The winner of this series will draw either defending 5A state champion Grapevine or Fort Worth South Hills in the area round. So the gantlet is just beginning for the Bearcats.
“We’re going to work on this week first and see that happens,” Bedgood said. “We’re going to have to play a good series to beat (Brewer), but we know that and we’re up for the challenge.”
One thing is for sure: The Bearcats aren’t just happy to be back in the playoffs. They want to win, and re-establish a legacy for the team for the future. That includes the coaching staff.
“It’s not just about this year, it’s about next year,” Jennings said. “We don’t want to be good just every two to three years. We want to build up a program and get some continuity and consistency, and get to where we battle for a playoff spot every year.
“I’ve been here four years and we really haven’t come close to doing that. For me personally, I want it where we’re getting these kids in every year. We’ve won more JV games this year than we’ve had in a while, and we’re excited about that.”