This weekend’s regional quarterfinal playoff series between Argyle and Sanger has all the makings of a must-see matchup for the right to play in the Class 3A Region II semifinals.
Sanger is in the midst of its best season with a frantic style of play that puts pressure on opponents with aggressive play on the basepaths. Argyle and its superior pitching depth have made a habit of keeping opponents off the bases.
Something has to give when the teams meet at 8 tonight to open a best-of-three series at Ponder. Game 2 is set for noon Saturday, and a possible Game 3 would follow.
“We’re going to try to put pressure on these high school kids,” Sanger coach Steve Ford said. “Hopefully we can do some things Argyle pitchers aren’t used to.”
The thing working in the Eagles’ favor is their starting pitching rotation, which would be considered deep by Class 5A standards, much less Class 3A.
There’s TCU signee Drew Gooch, the ace who’s been a four-year starter and is sporting a 0.43 ERA, and Texas Tech signee Parker Mushinski. The Eagles’ starter in Game 3 could be Hunter Markwardt, who has a 1.98 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings of work.
“We want to get on base, but they’re pretty accomplished in getting people out,” Ford said of Argyle’s pitchers. “[TCU coach] Jim Schlossnagle and [Texas Tech coach] Tim Tadlock aren’t recruiting kids they don’t think can get Big 12 hitters out, and we don’t have any Big 12 players. We’re up for the challenge, though.”
The Indians (24-6) have hit a school-record win total and matched their deepest playoff run by running opponents into making mistakes defensively.
Sanger has four players with at least 20 stolen bases, led by Ted Wisdom’s 30, and another with 17. The Indians have six players with at least 14 walks and sport a team on-base percentage of .476.
Argyle coach Ricky Griffin said the No. 4 Eagles (25-7-1) must take outs when Sanger gives them.
“First of all, you try to keep them off the bases,” Griffin said. “If they don’t have a lot of base runners, they can’t put pressure on you. You have to take the outs they give you. You can’t fall into the trap of trying to do too much. If they’re going to give you an out, you have to take it. You can’t try to get more than that.
“A lot of teams fall into the trap of they bunt and you try to get the lead runner. You have to just prepare your team for what they’re going to do.”
Griffin said he’s counting on his advantage in pitching depth to lead his team to the next round, where it would face the winner between Paris and Texarkana Pleasant Grove.
“We definitely have a pitching advantage, but as a team, what I have seen, they swing [the bat] as good or better than us,” Griffin said. “I definitely expect it to be a good series. Thank goodness we have a pitching advantage. I’m counting on that being the difference in the series.”
Aside from the intriguing chess match and differing styles of play, there is a unique rivalry aspect, not only between the two programs but the entire communities.
Argyle and Sanger spent several years as district foes before the 2012 UIL realignment split them up, and they will be reunited next school year in the new District 6-4A (Division I).
Griffin said there’s nothing “fun” about the prospect of playing Sanger, despite all of the outside fun surrounding the series and the matchup.
“It’s never fun playing a team like this,” Griffin said. “Our kids and their kids get along fine. There’s not trash talking. I have a lot of respect for their coach, and I think he has the same for me. I don’t think it’s going to be a heated series. I think it’ll be a great series.”
Ford echoed those sentiments but added that he and his program are still shooting to get to where Argyle already is — one of the most highly regarded programs in the state.
“I don’t consider anything a rivalry until it starts becoming balanced — until both sides are winning a few games,” Ford said. “Some people might not like hearing that, but Argyle has the upper hand right now. We’re trying to reach that status. But having said that, kids and coaches get into sports for these opportunities, so certainly this round with these teams is a great situation that we’re looking forward to.
“It’s more about the best two 3A teams in the area facing each other. If we didn’t even know them, it’d be fun. It’s a blast, man.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.