The Class 5A Region I baseball final has the potential to be one of the most important Tarrant County series in recent history.
Storied traditions, star power and rabid fan bases will be on display as Arlington Martin and Southlake Carroll begin a best-of-three series tonight at TCU's Lupton Stadium. At stake is a trip to the state tournament.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Arlington Martin," Carroll coach Larry Hughes said. "We've been through a lot of playoff games -- this is my 16th year here and we've been to the playoffs 15 years and 14 in a row, but they're like that too. When you're successful you sort of mount up all of the haters who want to beat you but that is really a good thing because it means you're successful.
"I don't think it could be a better matchup and we should have big crowds to play in front of at TCU."
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Each team has missed the playoffs only once in the past 20 years: Martin in 2004 and Carroll in 1998. The schools also have combined to claim three state titles and made eight state tournament appearances.
"We're honored to be in this game and it's an honor to play the Southlake [Carroll] Dragons with an opportunity to go to state again," Martin coach Curt Culbertson said. "It's an opportunity that doesn't come around very often, so we are going to try and take advantage of it."
Martin (34-4), which finished the regular season as the No. 1 team in Texas, appears to have no clear-cut superstar and no weakness. But it could be argued that with a team batting average of .349 and ERA of 1.64, several Warriors would stand out on many other rosters in the area.
Carroll (24-11) has advanced with a solid pitching staff (2.15 ERA) and with timely hitting, led by one of the top athletic talents in the state in Kenny Hill. The junior Texas A&M football recruit has thrived in pressure situations all year, whether it be with a football or bat in his hands.
Hill quarterbacked the Dragons to a record-tying eighth UIL state championship in the fall and, according to Hughes, has carried Carroll's baseball offense, too. Hill's two-out, bases-clearing double in the sixth inning last week against El Paso Montwood was the crucial hit of the 5-2 victory in Game 3.
"We have confidence to go out there and know that we are going to get it done," said Hill, who delivered the decisive hit down two strikes in the count. "Most of the people on the baseball team were also on the football team. We know about big-time situations and can go into it with no fear."
The Dragons ended the Warriors' football season in the state quarterfinals, a fact that is not lost on the Martin baseball team, said pitcher/third baseman Collin Day. The senior said many of the football players and coaching staff have told the baseball team to avenge the loss for the school.
"We have all pitched in and poured our heart into it," Day said. "If we don't win this series and go to state then the season pretty much means nothing to us. That's how much we want it."