If Keller Fossil Ridge head baseball coach Doug Dulany didn’t already have mostly gray hair, his team’s three-game series with Fort Worth Paschal would have done the trick.
All three games of the first-round playoff series were one-run, extra-inning games, and Ridge was happy to come out victorious and better prepared for the area-round series with Midland this week.
The preparation for a hoped-for long playoff run, though, may have started with the Panthers’ three-game, regular season-ending series with Keller. Ridge won the first game of that series but dropped the next game to end in a district tie for the title with Keller. A third seeding game followed.
But Dulany feels, win or lose, the need to go three games in three days with a formidable opponent may have been the best thing to happen for his ball club.
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Fossil Ridge lost the first game to Paschal 2-1 in nine innings but came back to even the series with a 3-2 win in 13 innings. Game 3 awaited the Panthers teams last Saturday afternoon. It took eight innings for a walk-off, 3-2 win for Ridge and the opportunity to face Midland this week.
That series is set for Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and then Friday at noon. An if-needed Game 3 would follow.
But the extended series with Keller was on Dulany’s mind. In the Keller games, Dulany said his Panthers learned how they would staff such a series.
“It was instrumental, and it was a playoff atmosphere and the intensity was important. Now the guys are more relaxed. Being in playoff atmosphere against a rival really paid off.
“We didn’t flinch. We are battle-tested,” Dulany said of the Paschal series.
Although the hitters normally get the focus in cases like Max Engel’s walk-off, game and series-winning hit in Game 3, Dulany said there are plenty of pitching and defensive plays that are equally as pivotal.
He noted Engle’s plate heroics came after catching 21 innings in the heat on Saturday, as well as great running catches by center fielder Brendan Cox and solid infielder play by shortstop Dylan Neuse and second baseman Christian Mendez.
“We tend to look at offense, but our pitching and defense have been outstanding. That’s why you win ball games,” Dulany said. He noted the pitching of Carlos Tavera and said little-used Justin Gordon, Angelo Cabral and Jesse Martin threw well.
Given a Panthers win over Midland, Fossil Ridge would take on the winner of Weatherford and El Paso Montwood.
Justin Northwest had to come from behind to post an 11-7 win over Denison for its playoff win. The Texans will now take on Birdville in the area round.
The series begins on Thursday at Birdville and moves to Northwest on Friday for 7:30 p.m. games. If a deciding game is needed, it will be at Northwest on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
The playoffs are the first for this group of players, and Northwest head coach John Herrick wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It’s good to get a game like this under our belt,” he said. “The kids have never been in a playoff or situation like this and I wasn’t sure how they’d react. They will always play seven innings, and I’m happy for the boys.”
The Northwest batters wore down the Denison pitching to overcome a 5-1 early deficit.
Although this is the most games the Texans have played, Herrick said the momentum should carry them through a busy week.
“We’ve got some private goals, some team goals to reach,” Herrick said. “These guys will compete and will play hard.”
With a win in the area round, the Texans would take on the winner of Colleyville Heritage and Wichita Falls Rider.
Keller, after winning the first game 2-0 in a series with Arlington Lamar, dropped the next two to end the Indians’ season.
After the win, Keller couldn’t hold serve in dropping the next two games, 5-0 and 2-0.
In addition to the bats being cold for Keller, the Indians had to play the two Saturday games at the Lamar home field.
“We’re very young as well,” said Keller head coach Rob Stramp. “They achieved more than expected.”