Written by Corbett Smith
Wakeland, Heath both rely heavily on pair of senior standouts
HEATH — When the brackets were drawn up for the Class 4A baseball playoffs, Rockwall-Heath coach Greg Harvey said he couldn’t help but notice that Frisco Wakeland was on the other side of Region II.
To match up against Wakeland in the regional final would be fitting, he said.
“If you filled out a postseason bracket, a lot of people probably had us and them together at this point,” Harvey said. “That’s how it should be. If somebody’s getting out of this region, it should be one of us. I believe we are the two best teams in the region.”
With a trip to Round Rock and the UIL state tournament on the line, No. 1 Frisco Wakeland (29-11) and No. 2 Rockwall-Heath (32-7) start a three-game series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at McKinney Boyd.
The two programs have been synonymous with success over the last four years, combining for 247 wins.
Not coincidentally, this run has dovetailed with the high school careers of four of the area’s brightest stars: Heath seniors Jake Thompson and Jovan Hernandez and Wakeland seniors Willie Schwanke and Hayden Nixon.
All four players will bat in the heart of their team’s lineup. All four will get a key pitching start in the series. And as both Harvey and Wakeland coach Barry Rose acknowledged, all four will be crucial to their team’s fortunes.
Thompson and Hernandez are four-year starters. Heath has made it to the regional finals three straight seasons and lost to eventual state champ Texarkana Texas in the regional semis in 2009. The two lead Heath in most hitting categories, and are the No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers. Both are batting over .400; Thompson is 10-1 on the mound, with an 0.77 ERA and 146 strikeouts.
“We’ve been fortunate to have these two guys who were good enough to start on varsity when they set foot on a high school field,” Harvey said.
Nixon and Schwanke both played key roles on Wakeland’s 2010 state semifinalists — Schwanke batting leadoff and Nixon starting against Corpus Christi Calallen.
This season, Schwanke leads Wakeland in nearly every offensive and pitching category. He’s 11-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 100 strikeouts, while batting .416 with 39 RBIs. Nixon, the probable Game 1 starter, has a 0.65 ERA in 752/3 innings.
“Everybody looks at them and knows that they are going pick us up when we need it, and always going to compete,” Rose said.
In the 2010 Region II final, Wakeland swept Heath in a shocker, nearly run-ruling the then-No. 1 team in the country, 14-6 and 12-3.
But instead of using words like rivalry or revenge, the players mostly talked of their respect for their opponent.
“It’s obvious that we’ve been some of the best teams in the area for the last three or four years,” Schwanke said. “It’s just an awesome situation that we can meet them again the regional finals.”