By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Writer
After finishing last baseball season with a 1-13 record in District 10-4A, the McKinney North Bulldogs had every intention of showing people that last season was just a blimp, and not the start of something far worse for a program that saw the postseason seven consecutive seasons from 2004-2010.
“The tradition here is great and it is almost an expectation to get into the playoffs,” said head coach Jim Gatewood. “I think before least year we made it seven years in a row, so it’s nice to get back in there after being out for a year.”
The Bulldogs had to battle several adversities over the course of the just completed 2012 regular season, including injuries, roster youth, and just the fact that they played in one of the strongest districts in Dallas-Fort Worth. But nothing compared to the having to overcome the team’s stretch run of district opponents, which included its crosstown rivals, the top three teams in the standings, and the team that was right behind the Dogs in fifth place.
Heading into the home game versus Rockwall-Heath on April 10, North found itself securely in the playoff race at 6-3 with five games remaining. However, four consecutive district losses dropped the Bulldogs to 6-7 and holding on by a thread to the fourth and final playoff spot over Wylie East and Wylie.
In the final game of the season at Wylie, the Bulldogs needed a victory and a Wylie East loss to secure the final postseason berth out of 10-4A and return the North baseball program to the state playoffs once again. Behind the pitching of Will Cooper the Bulldogs defeated the Pirates 4-1. And with a Wylie East 14-0 defeat to Rockwall-Heath, North clinched the berth and began preparation for another playoff run.
When asked how much this playoff chase has factored into gaining momentum for the playoffs, Gatewood spoke about how well it speaks of your ball club if you can make it out of this district.
“I think the thing that helps us out more than anything is this district. I think it’s so competitive and there’s so many good teams in this district that you have a battle every night,” said Gatewood. “That’s why we have always said that if you make it out of this district, you feel like you have a very good chance in the playoffs, no matter who you are matched up against.”
North will do battle versus Frisco Wakeland, the undefeated champions of District 9-4A, in a best-of-three UIL bi-district playof series beginning Thursday night at Carrollton’s Kelly Field. While the Bulldogs have a little familiarity with the Wolverines from their previous battles when they were both in the same district a few years back, Gatewood and his staff have had the advantage of knowing a few weeks back that if they made the playoffs, they would more than likely face Wakeland.
“We know them from a couple years ago when we were in the same district with them. We have kind of known for a few weeks where we would fall if we got in, so we’ve been watching them and we know a lot about them,” stated Gatewood.
Despite in past year’s of having big name ball players like Matt Lackie, Trent Appleby, and Kindle Ladd carrying the load for their respective teams, the 2012 Bulldogs are made up of a bunch of scrappy and hard working guys who play together as a team, according to Gatewood.
“All year long it has been a team group. We have had teams in the past that we have had 2-3 marque guys and a good surrounding cast, but this team is a little different.”
“We have a lot of guys that contribute from top to bottom, so they all need to play well if we are going to beat Wakeland.”
All three games would be played at Carrollton’s Kelly Field. Game 1 and 2 will start at 7:30 p.m. If needed, Game 3 would be played Saturday at 1 p.m.
Follow me @TSBSportsBruu as I will be at Friday night’s Game 2 and will be live tweeting updates from Kelly Field.
Second Place For Broncos
For the third straight season, the McKinney Boyd Broncos picked up the standings after the final district game of the season and found themselves in second place. However, the sixth year program will play in its third consecutive postseason after missing out on May baseball for the first three years of existence.
The Broncos finished 11-3 in District 10-5A, one game behind champion Rowlett. Boyd’s reward was a bi-district matchup with Lake Highlands out of District 9-5A, the same opponent the Broncos faced in the first round a year ago. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Broncos would win the deciding game three by a score of 16-1 and advance into the second round.
The same first round opponent is only one of the similarities that have Boyd’s assistant coaches Tommy Sparks and Tyler Porter both fascinated and encouraged heading into Thursday’s series opener.
“It’s ironic that literally, district wise, our schedule played out exactly as last year. We lost to Naaman once and beat them the second time. We lost to Rowlett twice. But I think we are better than we were last year, just the results are the same,” said Porter. “It is a mirror image of last year. Same first round opponent and same potential second round opponent with the way it has played out.”
One of the humps that the Boyd baseball program has not been able to overcome despite all of its postseason success has been winning a district title. And for the second year in a row, a late season matchup with Rowlett would set up a share or an outright lead of the title.
“We had a better opportunity this year with the game being here. Last year was really for co-champions; if we had won that (Rowlett) game we would have been tied. This year is was really outright, so if we win we would have won district, no questions asked and no seeding game,” said Sparks.
Unfortunately, history repeated itself as the Broncos lost 7-4 on April 20 to lose their chance at a district championship in 2012. But despite the loss, Porter was encouraged by how the players responded to the adversity in a game with a playoff-like atmosphere.
“I know we came up short, but without making a loss sound good, which it never is, we got up 1-0 then went down 7-1 just like that, but we didn’t roll over,” said Porter. “We made it to 7-4 and could have done a little more at the end, but knowing our kids didn’t shut it down is a good sign. We will get in games like that in the playoffs.”
After making it to the playoffs for the first time in 2010 and making it two rounds deep, the 2011 squad made it one round further before being bounced by Jesuit in a best-of-three series 2-1. When Sparks was asked about expectations for 2012, he noted that the bar has definitely been raised by the consistent rise in performance of the teams before them.
“Our expectations have changed. We made it to the third round last year and this year we would like to go further. Part of that is we have to tell our young guys to focus of Lake Highlands and not down the road.”
While the Broncos are a very talented group and are a favorite to make a deep run in the postseason, head coach Brandon Milam, who was not at practice on Wednesday as he was getting over an illness, could make a lineup card that has three freshmen and a sophomore starting in game one of a playoff game.
It waits to be seen how the youth on the roster will react to their first taste of playoff baseball, but it is safe to say that Milam and the rest of the Boyd Broncos will be ready to play ball on Thursday night.
Game 1 is at Boyd starting at 8 p.m. Game 2 is at Lake Highlands starting at 8 p.m. If needed, Game 3 would be Saturday at Boyd at 12 p.m.
Follow me @TSBSportsBruu as I will be at Thursday night’s Game 1 and will be live tweeting updates from Bronco Field.