Written by Corbett Smith
Solid pitching helps four District 9-4A baseball teams advance in playoffs
FRISCO — The Class 4A baseball playoffs are proving what those in District 9-4A already knew; it is one of the state’s best districts, from top to bottom.
All four playoff qualifiers — Frisco Centennial, Frisco Liberty, Frisco Wakeland and Prosper — have advanced to the regional quarterfinals, the first time that’s occurred in a North Texas district since the UIL expanded its baseball playoffs to four teams per district in 5A (2007) and 4A (2009). It is the fifth time statewide that all four teams from one district have advanced to the regional quarterfinals.
“Being in a tough district helps in the playoffs,” Prosper shortstop Brandon Grudzielanek said. “You’ve been battle-tested all year. And I think that’s showing with all four of us still playing.”
The teams will face off in two three-game series starting Thursday. In the openers, 9-4A’s third-seed Liberty (22-9-2) will host district champ Centennial (24-10), and fourth-seed Prosper (18-15) will travel to runners-up Wakeland (21-12-1).
“They’ll be no surprises,” Wakeland coach Barry Rose said. “We all know each other.”
Rose, Centennial coach Jason Wilson and Prosper’s Rick Carpenter all said that this year’s district was as demanding as any they’d ever seen. Last season, Wakeland and Centennial were knocked out by eventual champ Rockwall-Heath, while Prosper lost to 3A champ Texarkana Pleasant Grove.
In 2013, no 9-4A game could be counted on as an easy win, the coaches said. In the final weeks of the regular season, Wakeland lost to eighth-place Little Elm, and Centennial lost to The Colony, which finished tied for fifth with Frisco. Prosper struggled against the district’s schools that missed the playoffs.
“The No. 8 team, we were in two tough battles with them,” Carpenter said. “We split with the seventh-place team; we split with the sixth-place team. The fifth-place team swept us. It was unbelievable. In my 31 years of coaching, this was the most balanced I’d ever seen a district.”
A big reason for the balance, the coaches said, was pitching.
“If you look at each one of our teams, we’ve all got arms that are pretty solid,” Wilson said. “And good pitching is going to, most of the time, shut down good hitting.”
Although Liberty’s Hayden Parker (BYU) and Wakeland’s Austin Gehle have been outstanding aces, Prosper might have the district’s best pitcher: TCU-bound Brandon Gilson, a 6-4 lefty with a low-90’s fastball.
Centennial might have the deepest staff of the four. Jacob Atchley, a New Mexico signee, and left-hander Jason Morrison (MIT) have been solid all season, allowing Wilson to move Ryan Hill — another New Mexico-bound pitcher — into short relief in front of closer Remey Reed.
Centennial rode its pitching depth to a district title, winning nine straight games before its loss to The Colony. But that’s in the past, Atchley said. It’s Centennial’s 4-0 playoff record that matters now.
“Let’s put it this way: I’d rather be moving on in the playoffs than to have won district,” Atchley said. “District championships are all good, but it’s all about making that state run.”
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN
Four of a kind
Since the UIL baseball playoffs expanded to four teams per district in 2007 (5A) and 2009 (4A), only five times have all four qualifiers from the same district advanced to the regional quarterfinals.
9-4A: Frisco Centennial, Frisco Wakeland, Frisco Liberty, Prosper
27-4A: Schertz Clemens, Kerrville Tivy, Buda Hays, San Antonio Alamo Heights
12-5A: Bryan, A&M Consolidated (5A runners-up), Belton, Temple
17-5A: Houston Langham Creek, Cy Woods, Cy Ranch (5A champ), Cy Creek
31-4A: CC Calallen, CC Ray, CC Moody, CC Flour Bluff