SAVOY — Even before the season started, the Savoy Cardinals knew they were headed for the playoffs. Having a chance to play for a spot in the state tournament certainly wasn’t as set in stone.
But there is just one team standing between Savoy and the best season in school history as the Cardinals (10-16) take on Abbott (24-3) in the Class 1A Region II final series at Tillery Field in Mesquite. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. on Thursday with Games 2 and 3 at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The winner will advance to the state tournament in two weeks.
When the UIL added a 1A bracket in the latest realignment, Savoy was guaranteed a playoff spot due to it and Ector being the only 1A schools in District 11-2A. The only thing it needed to do in preparation for the postseason was finish ahead of the Eagles for the bracket’s top seed.
“The biggest challenge I had was this is a pretty tough 2A district,” first-year Savoy head coach Tim Arrington said. “When we didn’t have success, there were days they were hanging their heads a little bit. Our real season started with that bi-district game.”
The Cardinals could use every swing, pitch and out to figure the best way to navigate the playoffs without having to worry about getting in. And after reaching the postseason a year ago in 2A, achieving more this spring looked like a very attainable goal despite a young roster.
“We’ve had our ups-and-downs this year,” pitcher Patrik McCauley said. “When we came to the 1A bracket, there was confidence we could do something. We knew we had a chance.”
With just two seniors — catcher Lane Block and shortstop Sam Dugger — and two juniors to watch over a large core of sophomores with some freshmen sprinkled in, Savoy is on the verge of making history.
“It’s a young group but we’re trying to do this for our seniors,” third baseman Jonny Stone said. “This is their big shot.”
The Cardinals haven’t been to the region final since back-to-back appearances in 2000 and 2001. Savoy made the playoffs last season but lost in the bi-district round and hadn’t made the postseason before that since the 2001 campaign.
“It feels amazing,” outfielder Devin Smith said. “We’re going to try our best to push and make it to state. It’s definitely new for us.”
Savoy rallied to beat Dodd City last weekend, taking a doubleheader to earn the series win.
The Cardinals opened with a 4-3 walk-off loss in Game 1 but then won Game 2, 21-12, before a 16-6 victory in six innings in the deciding contest.
Stone was 4-for-4 with two doubles, drove in a run and scored three times, Smith tripled, drove in three runs and scored twice, Block was was 2-for-4 with a double and scored twice, McCauley was 2-for-4 and scored twice, Casey Colclasure drove in two runs and McCauley and Stone combined on four and two thirds innings of scoreless relief to close out the win.
“We had to find the fire inside us,” Stone said. “We were ready for our redemption.”
In the Game 2 win, Savoy scored nine runs in the bottom of the fifth after Dodd City tied the game at 12. Smith was 2-for-5 with a double, four RBI and four runs, Dugger was 3-for-5, drove in a run and scored three times, Braeden Dillon was 2-for-5 with a double, two RBI and scored, Block and Colclasure drove in two runs and McCauley scored three times for Savoy.
“We knew we were going to be in a dogfight,” Arrington said. “They showed some resolve that when things are going back, they kept fighting.”
It was the complete opposite of last year’s 2A playoff series when Savoy won the opener and then Dodd City rallied to advance.
“The mindset could have been that they beat us last year,” Arrington said. “But they were ready to go. The way the kids fought, I relish the chance to face Abbott. If you want to win state you have to through them at some point.”
Abbott won the District 15-2A title and was pushed to a third game in the semifinals by Avalon before advancing. The only other losses were against Glen Rose and Trenton, which beat Savoy twice in 11-2A play.
Hunter Pope leads the Panthers with a .469 batting average and 46 RBI while Matthew Urbanovsky is at .456 with 36 RBI and 28 steals.
The Cardinals have relied on their bats heavily this postseason — Savoy had a 27-0 bi-district win over Fannindel and then outslugged Vernon Northside, 16-9, in the region quarterfinals.
“When we played 1A schools, we were back in our element,” Arrington said. “Their bats are going. The last few weeks and last week against Dodd City, it’s been top-to-bottom with this lineup.”