By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
The Hays Rebels could be down on themselves after losing two of their final three regular season games, but they also see a lot of reasons not to.
The high school baseball playoffs are coming up this weekend, and the Rebels have at least played the best. Perhaps they’re disappointed that they lost twice last week to New Braunfels Canyon, thus missing out on the District 26-4A championship, but that doesn’t matter either way right now.
The Rebels (17-11-1) enter the Class 4A tournament in a first round series against Dripping Springs. Game 1 is Friday night (7:30 p.m.) at Hays. Game 2 is scheduled for noon Saturday at Dripping Springs. If necessary, Game 3 will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.
The Tigers finished third in District 25-4A at 8-6, completing a 14-15 season. But they are on a much happier trajectory than Hays, winning six straight, the last five by a combined score of 34-6.
“This time of year, it’s the hot team you have to worry about,” Hays Coach Doug Ragsdale said.
Indeed, the hot team with a so-so record is always the wildcard in the playoffs, because one never knows beforehand it’s only hot, or if it’s actually improved enough to win all the time. But if Ragsdale’s description holds, then it’s probably the latter, because the Hays coach seems most impressed by Dripping Springs pitching.
Not that Ragsdale really knows how Dripping Springs will set up its pitching, or even how he’ll set up his own. Some of the local suspicion has it that Dripping Springs will sit its top pitcher, Josh Urban, in the first game Friday night at Hays, try to steal it with Daniel Minor or Luke Noxon, then bring in Urban to win it at home in Game 2.
No one really knows. However, said Ragsdale, Dripping Springs wanted a one game playoff and, as the Hays coach put it, “Unbelievably, I won a flip.”
So, it’s two of three, which is a whole different order of running a ball club. Picking a two-of-three over a single-game format, Ragsdale hints that he has more confidence in his pitching depth somewhere down the line, whether he has enough arms to win a three-game war of attrition, or his No. 2 pitcher is good enough to beat a No. 1.
Either way, Ragsdale is going with his No. 2, Paul Breyfogle, in Friday night’s game. While it would seem obvious that No. 1 starter David Casas is in line for the second game, Ragsdale said he isn’t sure about it. If something bizarre happens in the first game, maybe if it goes 10 or 12 innings, any plans are basically lost. All Ragsdale could say for sure was that he isn’t going to cook his bullpen in the first game.
“That’s a game time decision,” Ragsdale about his second game starter. “In the playoffs, you can’t win two until you win one. We have to play the ball where it lands.”
The ball has been landing in some odd places lately, forcing Ragsdale into hard decisions with his pitchers. A week before the April 22 showdown with Canyon, Ragsdale had to use Casas for 6 1/3 innings of relief to beat Del Valle in 13 innings. Casas had just pitched a complete game with ten strikeouts against New Braunfels the previous Friday.
It remains to be seen if Casas has truly recovered from those long back-to-back outings. Ragsdale held Casas out of his previously scheduled start the next Friday against Schertz Clemens on April 18, and Breyfogle tossed three scoreless innings in a 9-0 win. Casas then went to the mound against Canyon with a week of rest, but it seemed to not be enough.
Canyon scored three times against Casas in the fourth inning, then twice more in the fifth, setting up its 6-2 win to reach a first-place tie with Hays at 11-2. After both teams won last Friday to end the regular season, Ragsdale resolved to use neither Casas nor Breyfogle in a tiebreaker game with Canyon, which bounced on the less established Hays pitchers for a 12-7 win at Lockhart last Saturday.
So, the Rebels lost the district lead, then lost the district tie, all in the same week, to the same Canyon club. But Hays players seemed undistracted by that as they began practice Thursday afternoon at Rebel Field.
“They’re not uptight at all,” Ragsdale said. “Not one time all year have then been uptight. None of the kids thought we were blown out (by Canyon). I thought our kids competed well. We played three ball games last week and made only one error.”
It might be added that Canyon is tougher than a lot of clubs in the playoffs. The Cougars are 50-6 in the last two years. And the Rebels have taken their licks, hanging three of those losses on Canyon.
If nothing else, in other words, the Rebels are battle tested. But Dripping Springs is hot.