Steers baseball playoff preview
The 4A baseball playoffs get started next week and the competition will be intense. The Graham Steers (13-13-1, 3-5) will be the bottom seed in the Bi-district round. They are set to face the top-seed and the 13th ranked 4A team in the state, Iowa Park (17-5, 8-1).
The Steers are familiar with Iowa Park. Graham split the season series with the Hawks. The Steers narrowly defeated the Hawks 9-8 on March 3. Graham then fell to Iowa Park 14-4 on April 9. Both games had one common theme, offense.
Iowa Park has been high scoring all season long. They closed district with a 16-2 victory over Vernon. Iowa Park was coming off of their first district loss in three years, before closing the season with a large win against Vernon. A majority of Iowa Park’s wins have come with double-digits.
Stopping Iowa Park’s prolific hitting will be key. The Steers have a pitching staff that can stymie the Hawks. In Graham’s earlier season victory against the Hawks, Connor Smith only surrendered three earned runs. Errors played a critical role in allowing Iowa Park to score eight runs, most of those runs came late in the game. The Steers have cleaned up their defensive game recently and the team hopes to be solid in the playoffs.
At the plate in the Steers win against Iowa Park, Smith flat-out raked. He went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Graham hit Iowa Park well. In the Steers loss to Iowa Park, Graham hit well enough to be in the game. Graham had seven hits to Iowa Park’s eight. The keys for the Steers will be clutch hitting and playing perfect defense. Against an offense like Iowa Park, Graham must capitalize on all scoring opportunities. They can’t afford to leave any runners on base. On the flip side, mistakes have to be minimized in order to lower Iowa Park’s offensive production.
Dillon Rodgers has not pitched against Iowa Park this season and he will hope to play a role in shutting down the Hawks high scoring offense. Iowa Park plays very well in clutch hitting situations and knows how to work counts on pitchers.
If the Steers get past Iowa Park it will not get any easier. District foe, Abilene Wylie, is the No. 1 team in 4A. The Steers fell 10-0 and 5-2 against the Bulldogs in two games this season. The Steers played markedly better against Wylie in their second meeting. Other than a jittery first inning, Graham was able to shut down Wylie’s scoring and even able to push some runs across in the seventh inning. However, Wylie has looked unbeatable throughout the 2016 campaign. Wylie’s record sits at 22-2-1. An impressive feat for a high school baseball team. Lubbock Christian and 5A Aledo were the only teams to beat the Bulldogs.
The Steers head into the playoffs with momentum. They are riding a strong victory over rival Mineral Wells. Graham beat Mineral Wells 9-5 to close district play and the Steers have the talent to get hot when it counts.
Mineral Wells also received an accolade heading into the playoffs and will be a tough out themselves. McCain Mason was named the 4A D-Bat Hitter of the week for the Rams. His batting average came in at .667 for the week and included a three run home-run against the Steers. The strength of the district is evident and all of the teams out of 6-4A that made the playoffs have the potential to do well and make deep runs.
There are several other regional teams that loom large. Arygle is ranked No. 5 and is the defending state champ. Argyle sits at 21-3 and is poised to go the distance. Argyle has beaten strong competition. Celina sits second in their district and is ranked No. 10 in 4A and sits 21-4-1 on the season.
Decatur is another regional nemesis and is also ranked. They are No. 18 and finished the season 19-7-1.
The competition is fierce and the road is long to the UIL Texas Baseball State Championships. Though, just by making the playoffs the Steers have a fighting chance to win it all. A chance is all that is needed to compete and chase the glory that all high school athletes seek.
The Steers are scheduled to play warm-up games against Bangs and Clyde this week before the playoffs begin. The game against Bangs will be in Graham on Saturday at 2 p.m. Graham will then travel to Clyde on Monday and play at 6 p.m.
The Bi-district round of the playoffs will take place the week of May 7. The Area round will follow the next week, followed by subsequent rounds of regionals. The state championships will take place in Austin June 10-13.