Just about the only thing different for the Yellow Jackets as they enter the playoffs is the region they play in.
Compared to last spring, Denison is feeling a bit of deja vu. It opens as the third seed out of the district standings with a record hovering around .500 after losing its final game of the season against its rival.
It was a banner finish to 2018 as the Jackets overcame early adversity in the Region I bracket, winning a pair of elimination games in each of the first two rounds to reach the region quarterfinals for the first time since 1992.
With two-thirds of that lineup returning and looking to make another run, the road will be a little bit closer to home this time around as Denison (15-15) faces Frisco Lone Star (26-6) in a Class 5A Region II bi-district series at McKinney Boyd. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. on Thursday; Game 2 is at 7 p.m. on Friday and Game 3 is at noon on Saturday.
The winner will face either Dallas Sunset or Woodrow Wilson in the area round next week.
“We shouldn’t feel any weight on us. We have playoff experience so we know what to expect,” Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said. “I think that’s key — having that knowledge and confidence.”
Denison is in the playoffs for the third straight year, which is something the program hasn’t achieved since four consecutive trips from 1995-98. Nearly the entire roster has spent the whole of its varsity career during this stretch and all the accomplishments from last year, including the first playoff win since 2000 and the first 20-win season since 1998, only bolster what can come next.
“Hopefully good things will happen,” Bollinger said. “I think the playoff atmosphere is a little different. Hope we do a better job than the other team.”
The Jackets will lean on pitching once again this postseason, starting with Oklahoma signee Christian Ruebeck, who threw 6.2 scoreless innings with four hits, three walks and struck out nine, including his 100th of the season, in his last start. Junior Zander Ramey and senior Garrett Maxwell would slot in some order behind Ruebeck, depending on how things shake out in Game 1.
Denison nearly carried a four-game winning streak into the match-up but came up short, 9-8, in nine innings against Sherman on Friday to close out the 10-5A schedule. The Jackets were trying to sweep all three meetings and rallied from a 7-3 deficit in the seventh to take an 8-7 lead before the Bearcats tied it in the bottom of the inning and then won in extras.
“Treat it as a learning point,” Bollinger said. “Trying to sharpen the things we need to sharpen.”
The Jackets do get catcher Cayden Earnhart back behind the plate after he sat out a week due to a concussion but outfielder Logan Tilley is sidelined with a knee injury suffered against Sherman and will be replaced in left field by Garrett Poe.
Lone Star was the runner-up in District 9-5A behind Frisco Wakeland with a 13-5 mark. It opened the season by winning 13 of its first 14 games with the only loss in that stretch being against Wakeland. Of their six losses, the Rangers gave up at least six runs in five of them. Only twice did they allow at least six runs and win.
Last year the Rangers were beaten by The Colony in a first-round series, dropping the opener 2-0 before winning the middle game, 11-2, before falling, 3-1, in the deciding third contest
Since the school’s opening in 2010, the program has made the playoffs five times, including its current streak of three years straight, and has been to the area round twice — 2017 and 2014.
Lone Star enters the playoffs after a 9-0 victory against Frisco Memorial. Senior Ryan Bogusz, who has signed with Oklahoma State, threw a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts and two walks. He had a perfect game against Trinity Christian and a no-hitter against Frisco Liberty earlier in the season.
Bogusz also went 2-for-3 with two RBI and scored while Austin Easton was 2-for-4 with a triple, drove in a run and scored twice and Dylan Clark was 2-for-4 with a double and drove in a run.
Junior Dylan De Leon leads the team in batting average out of the leadoff spot.
“One through five in their lineup are going to be pretty good, pretty scrappy to deal with,” Bollinger said. “Their ace is going to be similar to what we’ve seen from some teams. It’s not going to be easy. We think we can beat anybody as long as we play to our abilities.”