Experience is the best teacher. Byron Nelson’s baseball team had faced many must-win situations throughout the 2014 season.
Dropping a 5-4 decision to Fort Worth Arlington Heights in 13 innings on Friday – Arlington Heights won in walk off fashion – immediately put the Bobcats in elimination game mode. The pressure didn’t seem to affect them as they swept Saturday’s doubleheader from the Yellow Jackets, 5-3 and 1-0, to win the Class 4A Region I area playoff series.
Nelson (22-16) returns to the regional quarterfinal round for the second straight year and will face Cleburne. Details were still being determined. However, coach Mike Killian said it will be a best-of-three matchup starting on Thursday. Killian said both he and the Cleburne staff were trying to have the series played at Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field.
“The Friday game was a great game,” Killian said. “We just told them to keep their spirits up. Both teams played really well. The message to them was that this was a series and not a one-game playoff. We needed to win two games. I really liked the mental toughness we showed.”
Last Thursday’s heavy rains compressed the series to Friday at Arlington Heights and Saturday at Nelson. In the first elimination game Saturday, sophomore left-hander Bryan Seamster threw five strong innings as Bobcats took the lead in the later innings. Right-hander Kevin Lentzner earned the save.
In the deciding Game 3, right-hander Connor Prado worked 6 1/3 brilliant innings. With the tying run on base, Lentzner needed only five pitches to close out the series.
Baseball can be such a cruel game, because the Bobcats scored their only run in the fifth after an error set up the chance. Seamster delivered a two-out RBI single.
“I think it helped the psyche of our kids to be playing at home,” Killian said. “But when it came to the deciding game, everybody was playing their hardest. They were excited about it. I figured this was going to be a low-scoring series.”
If you’re a program playing in the postseason and want to keep wearing the uniform, you better have an unblemished record in elimination games. So far, Nelson has.
The Bobcats are 3-0 in elimination games through the first two playoff series against Saginaw Boswell and Arlington Heights. Nelson won the deciding game in the bi-district round and followed up with two wins in the area round.
“Sure, [3-0] means something,” Killian said. “It shows the mental toughness and the willingness to battle. That speaks volumes about our players. Of course, if you lose any of those games, your season is over. So our guys have met the challenge.”
The Yellow Jackets have a deep pitching staff and faced one-game playoffs in their first two rounds against Fort Worth Trimble Tech (1-0) and Denton Guyer (1-0). Those teams gambled with a one-game playoff and lost.
However, Killian wanted to go the conventional series route to give his players more of a chance. Cleburne swept the regional quarterfinal series last year.
“It’s going to take great at-bats,” Killian said. “It doesn’t matter where we are in the lineup. If we have runners in scoring position, we have to find a way to get them home.”