FRISCO — Much like in Game 2 of their regional quarterfinal series with Melissa, Argyle jumped out to a quick lead in Saturday’s decisive third game.
And much like in Friday night’s Melissa win, the Cardinals bounced back from the early deficit in a big way on Saturday to easily take Game 3 and the series with a 13-4 win over the Eagles, ending the state’s fourth-ranked team’s playoff run prematurely.
Melissa moves on to face the winner of a series between Longview Spring Hill and Gilmer in next week’s Class 3A Region II semifinal.
“Yeah, it’s tough to swallow,” Argyle head coach Ricky Griffin said, as his team’s season ended in the third round for the second straight year after going to the regional final the two seasons prior.
In a battle of No. 3 pitchers, when games can typically be slugfests, it looked early on as if Argyle’s Parker Mushinski had settled into a nice groove, facing the minimum number of hitters through the first three innings as his offense gave him a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third off Melissa pitcher Cade Cruce.
After that, the roles quickly reversed.
Cruce, who needed 32 pitches to navigate his way through the third inning needed just 58 over the final four innings en route to a complete-game victory while also going 1-for-2 at the plate with a home run and three RBIs.
“We weren’t going to pitch around anybody,” Melissa head coach Joe Williams said. “We were going to go after them. If there’s anyone in our dugout that’s a competitor, it’s that kid [Cruce]. He’s the ultimate competitor. I think what he did at the plate this series gave him confidence and helped him out. When he got that lead, he just became a different pitcher.”
Cruce finished the day with 109 pitches, allowing nine hits, but only three after the third inning in which two Melissa errors helped the Eagles take their 3-0 lead.
“You just have to take your hat off to him if he can have a shaky inning like that and come back the next four and shut you down,” Griffin said. “You don’t expect that to happen, but when it does you just have to take your hat off to him.”
With a 5-3 lead going into the seventh inning, Dallas Baptist signee Camden Duzenack pushed Melissa’s cushion to three runs with an RBI single to bring Cruce to the plate in the 2-hole.
On a 1-1 offering from Argyle reliever and Thursday’s starter, Drew Gooch, Cruce sent a two-run shot over the wall in left-center field to essentially ice the game, and the series, for the Cardinals (27-8-1).
But the damage was far from done as Melissa would bat around in the seventh, eventually scoring eight runs, capped by Duzenack’s grand slam off Landon Rogers.
It was Duzenack’s second home run in as many days and his eighth RBI in the past two games.
“If you told me we would’ve had this many hits and home runs [in the series], I would’ve said there’s no way,” Williams said. “Our kids were just seeing the ball so well. It was our series. They weren’t making awful pitches. We were keyed in.”
Griffin agreed, and said the patience in the bottom of the Cardinals’ order was what did his team in over the course of the three-day series.
“We didn’t throw the ball bad off the mound,” Griffin said. “They’re really a good-hitting team. They were locked in. Their 9-hole hitter [Garrett Vestal] killed us. Every time we see Duzenack over on deck and we had the 9-hole up with two outs, we could never get him out. Then that guy [Duzenack] comes to the plate, and that’s never a good situation.”
Duzenack was 2-for-4 on Saturday with five RBIs after falling a single short of hitting for the cycle with three RBIs in Friday’s Game 2 victory.
“With two strikes, we knew they feed off strikeouts,” Williams said of Argyle’s deep pitching staff, stacked with left-handers. “They have power arms. If we strike out, we knew we wouldn’t be victorious. We wanted to shorten up with two strikes and battle. We couldn’t chase junk. They’re pin-point. It was about just battling with two strikes. We did that down the order, and that set up the top of the order the entire series.”
Argyle (29-5) had chances to add some more runs early in the game, but Melissa’s defense was rock solid for much of the day, with the exception of the two third-inning errors.
In the second inning, in what was still a scoreless game, Seth Jones was thrown out at home plate on a relay throw from Duzenack after Mushinski laced a single to center.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, trailing 4-3, Jones led the inning off with a double and advanced to third base on a one-out balk.
With Mushinski at the plate again, he flew out to center fielder Landon Wilson, who made a strong throw home to catcher C.J. Tyler a little bit up the third-base line to tag out Argyle’s courtesy runner for an inning-ending double play to preserve the one-run lead.
“Today, they made every play,” Griffin said of Melissa, which won Friday night despite committing eight errors. “They threw us out twice at the plate from the outfield. We hit line drives and they caught them. They fielded every groundball. Their pitcher, who I saw earlier this year, had control problems, and he had no control problems. They stepped up, played a great game and outplayed us.”
Now, Griffin and the Eagles must regroup and try to get back to the way things were in 2010 and 2011, when they were one win away from the state tournament.
“I tell the seniors every year their job is to push the program a little further,” Griffin said. “I thought this group was a big part of our playoff runs the past two years, and we’ll miss them. We’ll go forward. It’s my job to figure out how to get us over this hump.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
Melissa 13, Argyle 4
Melissa 000 221 8 — 13 11 2
Argyle 003 000 1 — 4 9 3
WP — Cade Cruce. LP — Parker Mushinski. 2B — Camden Duzenack. A: Seth Jones 2. HR — M: Cade Cruce, Camden Duzenack. Records — Melissa (27-8-1). Argyle (29-5).