CORINTH - Even after losing nine seniors from last year's playoff squad, Lake Dallas head coach John Tompkins insisted early on that 2011 wasn't going to be a rebuilding year.
Turns out he was right. Apparently, the Falcons only needed a rebuilding month.
After losing four of its last six District 4-4A games and almost dropping out of playoff contention near the end of the regular season, Lake Dallas is still standing. Heading into its regional quarterfinal series with Canyon Randall in Midland, which begins on Friday, the Falcons have already topped last season's playoff run. And thanks to a well-timed offensive explosion coupled with a few key pitching performances, the Falcons appear to be a far cry from the team that, just over two weeks ago, was fighting for a chance to be in the postseason at all.
Sometimes, it just pays to get hot at the right time.
"Our kids went through a stretch there where they were playing not to lose and not actually going out there and playing to win," Tompkins said. "Once they got in [the playoffs] and that pressure was off, they started to play to win again. I think that's what got them going. When you relax and just go out there and play, good things happen to you. That happens, and your confidence level just goes up."
Whatever happened, the change has been obvious.
The Falcons (25-10) have won five of their last six games, starting with a 7-2 win over Wichita Falls on May 3 in a tiebreaker game for the district's fourth and final playoff spot. They followed that up with a three-game series win over District 3-4A champion Canyon before thumping El Paso Horizon in two games in the area round by a combined score of 35-5.
"Nothing changed, really," Lake Dallas junior Dalyn Williams said. "We carry ourselves the same and we're the same group. We just hit a slump there and, eventually, we just played our way out of it."
Lake Dallas played its way out of that slump just in time to beat Canyon, which tied for the 3-4A title with Wolfforth Frenship, which eliminated 4-4A rival Ryan from the playoffs in the first round. Canyon won the top seed in a tiebreaker.
In that bi-district series, Lake Dallas took a one-game lead after starter Brandon Cogbill threw a solid game, giving up just four hits while striking out nine. Then, after losing Game 2 in a 14-5 rout, Lake Dallas turn right back around in Game 3 and won 14-5 after putting up 15 hits including a 4-for-5, three-RBI showing by Marshall Little that included a home run.
Cogbill has been fantastic through the postseason so far, even after pulling a muscle in his back just before the series with Canyon. He pitched through that outing and then, in Game 1 against Horizon, threw a no-hitter to help put the Falcons on track to an easy sweep.
"My back was hurting in that first series and I just found a way to pitch without hurting it anymore," Cogbill said. "I wasn't trying to throw as hard as I could. I started throwing more breaking pitches and stuff and I guess it just kind of worked out."
As good as Lake Dallas' pitching has been, its hitting has been just as stellar.
With Williams recently moving into the leadoff spot, and Little and teammate Tyler Waller ramping up their production, the Falcons have produced an impressive 12.6 runs per game in the playoffs - most of those coming in a 27-5 win over Horizon in Game 2 of the area-round series.
In that series, Waller went a perfect 7-for-7 with six RBIs, while Williams was 5-for-8 with five RBIs - all of which came in Game 2. Little, meanwhile, continued his hot hitting by going a combined 7-for-9 with four RBIs.
"I think we just work better under pressure," Waller said. "All the pressure games we've been in, it seems like we've won. We beat Wichita Falls. We've won every Game 1 and every Game 3 that we've played in. I think we're just one of those teams that plays its best under that kind of pressure."
Lake Dallas will face more of that pressure on Friday when it meets Canyon Randall - the No. 3 seed out of 3-4A that rolled into the third round with sweeps of The Colony, which beat the Falcons twice this season, and El Paso Andress.
"All we can do is just like we've done every week," Little said of the series. "We're just going to have to play every game our like it's our last and see what happens. The best team is going to come out on top."
MARSHALL MOORE can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .