Pitching depth governs how far a team will advance in the state high school playoffs. For Grapevine’s baseball program, the Mustangs had their share of quality pitchers.
However, they couldn’t match what Fort Worth Arlington Heights countered with in the Class 5A Region I area playoffs last week. The Yellow Jackets had four-plus arms to shut down Grapevine’s lineup.
Arlington Heights swept the series, 2-1 and 7-0, to advance to the Region I quarterfinals. Grapevine, making a return to the postseason after missing out in 2014, closed its season at 22-7. It was the first time the Mustangs lost consecutive games this season. They collected only five hits for the series.
This was also a reverse from the bi-district playoff series against Saginaw Chisholm Trail. In that series, Grapevine won by scores of 6-0 and 2-0.
“They stayed with the hard stuff on us,” Grapevine head coach Lee Yeager said. “Most of the time their pitchers were in the upper 80s. When they needed to pick it up a notch, they could. They are probably the toughest pitchers we’ve faced because they also came with good hard sliders. When we got runners on, they bore down.”
In the 2-1 loss in the opener, the Mustangs had a chance to take command but couldn’t do so. They had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning but failed to score. The game spoiled a strong effort from sophomore pitcher Connor Neuman. He surrendered two runs in the first inning but then finished with six scoreless innings.
The second game had a positive start. Senior David Ash was perfect through three innings. However, Arlington Heights made the adjustment the second time through the order. The Yellow Jackets scored one run in the fourth and then blew it open with four more in the fifth.
“David just got a couple of balls up and that really affected him,” Yeager said. “At that point, it was going to be hard to come back. We just couldn’t get anything going.”
If there was any consolation from this series, Grapevine didn’t contribute to its own demise with walks or costly errors. Arlington Heights hit its way to this sweep.
For its part, the Mustangs did have their share of chances in the second game because of some Yellow Jackets errors and walks. They had base runners in four of the first five innings but came away frustrated.
“All we ask of our players is to give their best effort,” Yeager said. “We gave ourselves a chance against a team that probably has a chance to win our region. We didn’t give them anything. We played hard for 42 outs. We just lost to a really good team.”
Looking to 2016
The Mustangs will have to rebuild a pitching staff that had pretty solid depth. The good news is that Neuman is going to be a junior and can serve as the anchor for 2016. Kyle Flamm and catcher Tanner Gibson will be core players that should set the tone for the rest of the roster.
“We’re losing a bunch of seniors, but we have a great group of sophomores coming up,” Yeager said. “They’re very talented but just weren’t ready for the varsity. But they will be next year. We’re getting this program moving in the right direction.”