The last time Texarkana Pleasant Grove did not win the Class 3A Region II baseball title, Argyle had not made the playoffs at any time in school history.
Seven years later, the Eagles will have a chance to make history.
After defeating Pleasant Grove in last weekend’s regional semifinals, Argyle will try to reach the 3A state tournament for the first time. To do so, the Eagles will have to defeat Paris North Lamar in this weekend’s Region II finals.
Game 1 of the best-of-three series is at 8 tonight at McKinney Boyd. Game 2 is at 8 p.m. Friday at North Lamar. If necessary, Game 3 will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at Boyd.
Argyle is making its third regional finals appearance, and for the first time Pleasant Grove isn’t standing in the Eagles’ way. But Argyle coach Ricky Griffin knows his squad will still have to beat a quality team in order to make the trip to state.
“I think North Lamar has a lot of the same qualities as Pleasant Grove,” Griffin said. “The kids are really tough, they have great pitching and they’re not going to strike out much.
“We’re going into it with the same mentality as we did last weekend. The difference is, in this one you get to go Austin.”
North Lamar (21-15-1) finished second in District 13-3A behind Pleasant Grove and is looking to make its first state tournament appearance since 1987.
Argyle (29-9-1) was six outs away from reaching the state tournament in 2011, when the Eagles held a slim lead over Pleasant Grove in Game 2 of the regional finals. But the lead slipped away and Argyle lost the series after another game.
No matter who wins this weekend’s series, it’ll be the first time since 2005 that a Texarkana team will not represent Region II at state. Prior to Pleasant Grove’s six-year run, Texarkana Liberty-Eylau made two trips to the state tournament.
One of the biggest reasons Argyle reached this weekend’s series was because of its starting pitching last weekend. Each one of Argyle’s starting pitchers — junior Hunter Markwardt, senior Parker Mushinski and senior Drew Gooch — pitched into the seventh inning against Pleasant Grove.
In the one game Argyle lost, Mushinski threw a two-hitter in a 1-0 defeat in Game 2. In nine postseason games, Argyle’s pitching staff has a combined 1.69 ERA.
“We’ve played some teams that have some really good pitching but probably not the depth that these guys have,” North Lamar coach Scott Igleheart said of Argyle.
At the plate, the Eagles are led by junior catcher Ryley Balch and junior Cutter McDonald. Balch is hitting a team-high .423 in the playoffs, while McDonald is close behind with a .417 batting average.
As his team took hacks in the batting cage Tuesday, Griffin said he wanted to put the school’s first playoff series victory over Pleasant Grove in the past and focus on the goal the team has had the entire year. Balch echoed those sentiments.
“That’s what we’ve all wanted this whole year,” Balch said. “Going into this year, that was the expectation — that we were going to Austin. The fact that we have just one more round to get there shows how hard we’ve worked and how excited we are about that.”
The Eagles’ bats will have to contend with North Lamar’s strong arms. Panther senior Daniel Gibbons will pitch at Army next year and carries a 0.89 ERA. North Lamar’s Brandon Dusenberry is headed to William Jewell and has an 0.87 ERA.
“The pitchers we’re seeing at this time of the year, they’re going to be able to locate, they’re going to be able to change speeds, and that gives high school kids problems,” Griffin said.
Argyle junior left fielder Tyler Gibson remembers when the Eagles were a few outs away from making it to the state tournament. Gibson said a state appearance this year would be a strong statement for a team that has reached the regional quarterfinals five years in a row.
“It’d be great, especially for this program,” Gibson said. “It’d make this program basically take the big step that it needed to take. I think if we make it to state this year, it’d basically set a precedent for years to come for the next teams.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.