Finally, Grapevine’s baseball program had to worry about making travel plans to Central Texas in mid-June.
Finally, Grapevine didn’t have to think about what could have been after falling short as it did in four other regional finalist appearances, 1992, 1995, 1998 and 1999.
Finally, Grapevine shed the label of being one of the best high school baseball programs in Texas to never advance to the state tournament.
A sweep of District 6-5A foe Lake Dallas in the Region I finals last week at Dallas Baptist sent the program to Round Rock for the first time in school history. The No. 1 seed Mustangs (33-6) play Whitehouse (25-11) in the first 5A semifinal at 4 p.m. Thursday at Dell Diamond. Two years ago, Grapevine didn’t make the playoffs.
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Should the Mustangs advance to Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game, they would face the winner of the second semifinal between San Antonio Alamo Heights (26-7) and College Station (27-14). That game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“I don’t know if it dawned on this group of kids about some of the other misses,” Grapevine first-year coach Steve Hutcherson said. “These guys were one or two years old the last time this program was in this position. What this group wanted to be known for was being the one that put together a pretty incredible season and got this program back on the map.”
The Mustangs aren’t showing many flaws. They have a very deep lineup, as 12 different batters are hitting .330 or better. Senior Kyle Flamm is hitting .385. Junior first baseman Joseph Leal is hitting .344.
Hutcherson has seen this pitching staff develop to where he could go to as many as 10 different pitchers and not have second thoughts about it. Of course, his top four are Flamm, juniors Connor Neuman and Andrew Cain and senior Boone Montgomery. They have combined to go 25-3.
Flamm and Neuman have been the starters in the first two games in each of the five postseason series.
“The one thing is that their level of competitiveness has really shown especially when they have not had their best stuff,” Hutcherson said. “When teams put runners on base, they got better.”
The Wildcats are making their own improbable run to the state tournament. Finishing fourth in District 16-5A, Whitehouse rode the arm of junior right-hander Ryan Walls (8-2). Whitehouse won postseason series against Texas High, Ennis, Corsicana, Wylie and Lufkin. The Wildcats needed to win two elimination games against the Panthers in the Region II championship. Whitehouse is making its second appearance at the state tournament. Its first was 2013.
Given that this format changes from a series to a single game scenario, it’s probable that the Wildcats coach Derrick Jenkins will start Walls.
The Mustangs likely will counter with Flamm. Because there are so many options, Hutcherson can be quick with the hook if need be.
“We’ve been in three Game 3 situations, so I think that prepares us for this type of game,” Hutcherson said. “It’s win or go home. This is my first time to coach a team in the state tournament. Everything I’ve learned from other coaches is that you just worry about the first game.”
This is a state tournament filled with relative newbies. Along with Grapevine and Whitehouse, Alamo Heights is also making its first appearance. College Station is making its second after appearing in 2014.