Some relationships take time to build and nurture. But then there’s the relationship that first-year Southlake Carroll baseball coach Larry Vucan had with his team long before he was named as Larry Hughes’ successor.
Time or adjustments were not needed. Players and coach bonded easily.
Vucan had been around this program since he became the pitching coach in 2011. When the district promoted him in July of 2016, the vibe only strengthened.
On the strength of a seven-game postseason winning streak, Carroll (30-10) has advanced to the Class 6A Region I finals against Arlington Martin (31-7-1) at Dallas Baptist University.
He said that we needed to create a vision. Our vision is Round Rock.
- Carroll catcher Ross Cadena, on coach Larry Vucan’s message to his team
Thursday’s opener begins at 5 p.m. Game 2 on Friday is scheduled for 2 p.m. (the early start is to accommodate both schools graduating Friday night). A potential deciding third game is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday.
“No matter what, he backs you up,” said Carroll catcher Ross Cadena, who has signed with Wichita State. “If you want to take batting practice for three hours after practice, he’ll do it. He treats us like we’re his kids. And we all feel that.”
To say that explains the Dragons’ postseason run could be considered a reach. A team still has to be talented in order to win. It also has to have extraordinary pitching in order to be playing into the first weekend of June.
Carroll has that. The Dragons have run through Plano, Waco Midway, Allen and Keller Fossil Ridge by surrendering only 14 earned runs. Keep in mind, half of those runs were surrendered in the series opener against the Eagles.
“The only thing I’ve asked of these guys is to keep playing at a level where they know they can,” Vucan said. “They have. The competition we’ve faced has been pretty tough. We have some confidence. But we know we have a great challenge in front of us.”
The Warriors and Dragons met in the 2012 and 2013 regional finals, and Martin won each. Most recently, they met in the 2015 regional semifinals. The Warriors won in three games.
Frustration probably would not begin to describe how Carroll feels about its misfortunes when it comes to playing Martin. But this series presents another opportunity to change that.
“Throughout the lineup, this group has been gritty and game-worthy,” Vucan said. “We have a tough group of kids. They’re just going to have to react to every game situation.”
Maybe it’s somewhat unexpected that Carroll has made it this far. This team began 3-3 with questions unanswered about the starting lineup and how the rest of the pitching would line up behind Kole Ramage.
Two months later, Carroll is one of eight 6A teams still wearing a uniform.
“He sat us for a conversation after the Houston tournament and said that we needed to create a vision,” Cadena said. “Once we had that, we talked about it every week. Our vision is Round Rock. You have to talk about if you believe you can do it.
“What we have to do is handle every emotional roller coaster of this series. We have to control the momentum shifts.”
Carroll’s 8-1 playoff record is a product of both what it’s doing on the mound and at the plate. The team ERA is 1.64 and opponents are hitting just. 260. Senior right-hander Ramage is 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA. Offensively, the Dragons are hitting .324 and averaging seven runs per game. Cadena is having the big postseason, batting .458.