WHITESBORO — Perhaps with last Friday’s magical win that clinched Whitesboro’s deepest advance ever in the baseball playoffs, the Bearcats might’ve stumbled upon a formula that’ll keep their season going even farther.
Down to their final out in the seventh inning, trailing 1-0 and facing a Game 3, the Bearcats rallied to tie the game, then later won an appeal to nullify a walk-off run by Edgewood in the ninth, and finally got a three-run inside-the-park homer by Weston Hickman in the 10th to finish an improbable Class 3A Region II quarterfinal sweep.
“There were a couple of times where we were dead in the water,” Bearcats head coach Curt Cole said. “In the top of the seventh we had two hits going into it. But our kids don’t look at any of that. They keep focused on the task at hand.
“The kids play so loose. They just play a game. I think during a game it doesn’t set into them what the score is. Their never-quit attitude was pretty big.”
While the level of postseason is new for Whitesboro, this weekend’s venue is not. The Bearcats (24-8) return to Rockwall-Heath High School, the site of last week’s sweep of Edgewood, for a three-game Region II semifinal series against New Diana that begins tonight at 7:30 p.m. with Game 1.
“It’s about the same (travel time) for both of us, an hour and a half to an hour and 40 minutes,” Cole said. “It’s a nice field, so I think it’ll work out good. They’ve got covered seats for the hot day Saturday.”
Saturday’s Game 2 is set for 4 p.m., with Game 3 to follow if necessary. The winner of the series will face either Gunter or Beckville next week with a berth in the Class 3A state tournament on the line.
Graduation schedules dictated an unusual Wednesday start for the series. Whitesboro graduates on Friday and New Diana on Thursday, leaving the teams with no choice but to start the series a day earlier than the norm.
As far as those who’ll be marching on Friday, not many of those are baseball players. The Bearcats are a fairly young squad, with only three starting seniors. But two of them form the core of the starting pitching rotation in Cayden Cobb and Dalton Vanlandingham. Centerfielder Cody Robinson is the other starting senior.
“All three of them have played three to four years,” Cole said. “They’re so experienced and they lead the other guys out there. They lead by example in how to play the game. That’s big for us.”
Both Cobb and Vanlandingham pitched well in last week’s Region II quarterfinal against Edgewood. Cobb allowed three runs on seven hits in Thursday’s Game 1, striking out six; while Vanlandingham, who got a no-decision in the Game 2 marathon, allowed just one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings despite laboring at times in the early innings.
Even the two Whitesboro seniors who don’t start, David Shamasko and Bailey Luton, are important leaders in the dugout.
“They don’t have a starting role, but something I’ve noticed that’s different from in the past is they don’t sit around and pout in the dugout,” Cole said. “When the team wins, they’re happy. That’s what it takes, team camaraderie.”
The player who might’ve stolen the show last week — besides Hickman and his huge 10th-inning hit — was sophomore Christian Goedecke, who pitched a combined total of 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in the series, earning the Game 2 win.
As solid as Whitesboro was on the mound, however, they’ll be hard-pressed to match New Diana pitch for pitch.
The Eagles (25-5) are led by junior Jacob Burton, who has committed to the University of Arkansas. Burton pitched a six-hitter with 10 strikeouts and one walk in a 10-2 win against Hooks last Thursday in Game 1 of their series.
In Friday’s Game 2, Tristan Swain was victimized by six New Diana errors, but allowed only one earned run as the Eagles used their offense to prevail over Hooks, 9-6, to finish the sweep.
“They’ve got two good pitchers,” Cole said. “They’ve got some guys who can bring it.”
Swain and Lane Meshell went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Cole Willeford and Isaiah Martinez chipped in with two hits and an RBI apiece and Cody Stanley had two hits and two walks for the Eagles in Game 2.
Dakota De Baun had a two-RBI single, Jordan Stroud an RBI double and Landon Dorman a run-scoring base hit to round out the New Diana offense.
Prior to this year, the only other time Whitesboro had reached the region quarterfinals was 10 years ago. Cole was in his third year of coaching the Bearcats at that time.
A decade later, a fresh batch of Bearcats is charting new waters, and Cole is glad to get a winning tradition restarted at Whitesboro. Last year’s area-round advance, in fact, was the first time since that 2007 season that Whitesboro had won a playoff series.
“Last year’s seniors kind of led us and got us going, and let us get a feeling of winning playoff series,” Cole said. “Now this year’s group has led us a step further. It’s been a joy to watch this happen.”