Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Frisco Wakeland seniors ready for playoff magic
Nixon and Schwanke look to lead team back to 4A state tournament
FRISCO — With a roster loaded with sophomores and juniors, Frisco Wakeland coach Barry Rose has a lot to talk about this week. The playoffs are a different atmosphere, he tells the players, and a trip to the state tournament could teeter on a single at-bat or defensive play.
Sometimes, Rose said, it’s just better to let seniors Hayden Nixon and Willie Schwanke do the talking.
“Those guys have been there,” the coach said. “They’ve been through it.”
Nixon and Schwanke are the only remaining players from the Class 4A state semifinalist of two years ago. In the only state baseball appearance in Wakeland’s short history, Nixon started at pitcher and Schwanke at third base.
“It was a memorable experience,” Schwanke said. “One I’ll never forget.”
Now Schwanke and Nixon hope to earn another unforgettable experience, but with a better final day. The seniors lead Wakeland (21-8), the No. 2 team in the 4A state rankings, into a best-of-3 bidistrict series against McKinney North (18-8). Game 1 is 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Kelly Field in Carrollton.
It’s what Wakeland has been looking forward to since wrapping up the District 9-4A title more than two weeks ago.
“The crowd’s louder and there are people yelling at you,” Nixon said of the playoffs. “It makes it more fun.”
It’s been a fun three seasons for Schwanke and Nixon. They played in the state tournament as sophomores and helped Wakeland finish 35-6 and advance to the 4A Region semifinals last year. Schwanke, Nixon and senior infielder Justin Swanner are now the only seniors who regularly start for Wakeland, which could be headed for a Region II showdown with Rockwall-Heath (25-7), the No. 5 team in 4A.
Rockwall-Heath is led by seniors Jake Thompson and Jovan Hernandez, who have been stars as hitters and pitchers since they were sophomores. Schwanke and Nixon are a similar combination. Schwanke, who has signed with Arkansas, is batting .493 and is 7-0 as a pitcher. Nixon, a lefty who signed with Panola College in Carthage, bats .365 and is 6-1 on the mound. They each have earned-run averages of less than 1.
“They’re our two big horses on the mound,” Rose said. “We’ve really leaned on them.”
Wakeland will need to lean on some younger players in the playoffs, including when it needs a third starter. Juniors Cameron Brockhoff or Dan Harrington could get the call, or possibly sophomore Austin Gehle. Schwanke is usually at third base when he isn’t pitching and Nixon plays the outfield.
No matter who is on the mound, the key will be the same. Wakeland doesn’t have as much pop in its lineup this season, but it has thrived with solid defense and clutch hitting. The Wolverines have won their last six games decided by two runs or less.
“Pitching and defense,” Nixon said. “That’s what will get us where we want to be.”