Keller baseball coach Rob Stramp certainly doesn’t see his Indians as a favorite going into Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday of a bi-district playoff series against heavyweight Arlington Martin.
But although Keller (19-11-1) may have limped into the postseason as the last seed out of District 4-5A, the Indians did sweep district contests from champion Southlake Carroll 3-1 and 8-7.
“I don’t think we feel like, from a talent level, that we’re lacking at all,” Stramp said. “We were a little unorthodox this year in the fact that we don’t really have an ace pitcher. We just kind of had a conglomeration of guys who throw and try to keep us close.”
Seven of Keller’s district games were decided by one or two runs, with Keller winning five times.
Sophomore left-hander Hunter Seay and junior righty Riley Cooper each posted 3-1 district records and would be easy choices to start for Keller, but senior Chandler Carter, junior Bryan Berner or senior Matt Haake could be options as well.
Keller will face one of the area’s best in senior right-hander and Texas A&M commit Turner Larkins for Martin (22-7-1), but Stramp believes with the experience his team has received against good pitching, they can put the bat on the ball.
“I think Martin’s pitching is definitely better than ours, but on the other hand, I feel like we’re fully capable of swinging the bat against good pitching,” Stramp said.
vs. Richland (23-8)
Previous meetings point to an uphill battle for Arlington to take this best-of-three series.
The Colts dropped the first contest against Richland 10-9 in two extra innings on Feb. 13 and then followed it with a 9-6 loss on Feb. 27.
Through district play, however, Arlington has gained plenty of momentum behind starting pitcher Omar Salinas.
Salinas pitched in the first meeting against Richland, going just three innings with three strikeouts.
In his last four outings, Salinas (6-4) has averaged 6.24 innings, throwing three complete games, and 10.75 strikeouts.
“He hits his spots and he can fool people and he’s dominating people right now,” coach David Nix said.
Fossil Ridge (21-9) vs. Weatherford (21-7-2)
It’s rare for two quality teams to pair up in a winner-take-all game, but Weatherford coach Terry Massey said it plays much better into his team’s strengths.
Massey elected to flip for the one-game playoff with Keller Fossil Ridge and won the toss. The game will be played at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie.
Against District 3-5A’s other three playoff teams, Weatherford scored just six runs for a 2-4 record.
“We haven’t been scoring a whole bunch of runs this year and we felt like, if it got to a Game 3, runs have been very minimal for us and our offense hasn’t gotten started yet, so we figured we’d take our chance on one game,” Massey said.
Carroll (25-4) vs.
FW Paschal (13-17)
After cruising through a nondistrict schedule that lifted Southlake Carroll near the top of the national rankings, District 4-5A play was not nearly as kind.
Carroll dropped two to fourth-seeded Keller, along with a 5-3 loss to third-seeded Richland.
State playoffs, however, are where the Dragons thrive, and they begin with Fort Worth Paschal in a one-game playoff.
Carroll coach Larry Hughes will throw his ace, Ben Leeper, who finished second in ERA in District 4-5A and threw a no-hitter earlier this month.
Closing for Leeper will be Joe Heineman, Carroll’s No. 2 pitcher through the season, who took a liking to the closer’s role last season when Carroll advanced to the regional finals.
“We’ve got everything ready for a good matchup like we need it to be,” Hughes said.
Arl. Heights (18-8-1)
vs. Burleson (10-17-1)
It was not a matchup that was seen this year at the varsity level, but Fort Worth Arlington Heights coach Shad Whiteley said Heights and Burleson are very familiar at the sub-varsity level.
Heights finished District 7-4A play with seven straight wins to claim the district championship.
“I feel like we’re peaking at the right time,” Whiteley said. “Guys are starting to settle into their roles and we’re confident and ready.”
Third baseman Matt Schreiner enters the playoffs as one of Arlington Heights’ hottest players, coming off a regular-season-ending, three-hit night in a 3-2 win over Granbury.
Burleson won three of its final four and took district champion Cleburne to the wire in a 2-0 loss.
Players to watch
P Turner Larkins, Arlington Martin: Struck out 79 in 50 innings for a 0.93 ERA
P/INF Omar Salinas, Arlington: Hit .443 with 7 doubles, recorded 79 strikeouts for a 0.88 ERA
OF Eric Cole, Southlake Carroll: Hit 10 triples and 6 doubles and scored 21 runs in district play as Carroll’s leadoff hitter.
P Beau Burrows, Weatherford: Went 6-1 on the year, highlighted by a 16-strikeout effort against Arlington Lamar on March 25.
OF Trey Smith, Colleyville Heritage: Blasted five home runs and 10 doubles this season.
C Luis Rivas, Keller Fossil Ridge: Knocked in 24 RBIs this season.
P Hunter Spielman, FW Paschal: Struck out 73 and had a 1.33 ERA.