FORT WORTHTexas Collegiate League dugouts and stands alike are abuzz with talk of impending playoffs and finishes to clinch home field advantage in the Aug. 7-9 (if necessary third games) postseason division rounds and the Aug. 11-13 (if necessary third games) championship series.
One thing is certain through Aug. 1 bouts: Denton has clinched both the Rogers Hornsby Division crown for the second year in a row and home field advantage for the Hornsby Division best 2-of-3 series starting Monday.
Three other teams are in the thick of the race for the second berth in that divisions playoff picture prior to Wednesday outings. Mineral Wells (19-25), Graham (18-26) and Weatherford (18-26) are within one game in the standings of one another with four contests left in the regular campaign. The race is similar to 2005 when Weatherford and Graham both finished 20-28 in the 48-game slate, and the Wranglers prevailed by head-to-head competition.
Things are just as wired in the Tris Speaker Division as both McKinney and Coppell are 28-16 through Tuesday tilts atop the standings. Stubborn Euless (25-19) still has a mathematical shot at first or second place with four tests on the schedule prior to its Thursday home game with the Marshals. The Copperheads closed three games ahead of McKinney in 2005 final standings (31-17 to 28-20) before the Marshals swept the division playoffs with 6-3 and 3-1 wins over the Copperheads.
Pitching dominated all three 2005 postseason series as McKinney allowed just four runs to usually-productive Coppell in their two-game set, and Denton limited Weatherford to three runs in a 3-2 and 4-1 sweep of the Wranglers.
The 05 championship produced a pair of one-run verdicts Dentons 5-4 triumph at McKinney in 10 innings during Game One and the Marshals 2-1 return triumph at Denton. The final produced a 3-1 clinching win for the Outlaws in spite of a playoff-record 15 strikeouts (equaled just one other time in the three-year history of TCL regular or postseason play by Coppells Jess Todd of Navarro) by Texas A&Ms Austin Creps. Dentons Corey Kluber (Stetson) made his winning start count for coach Derek Matlocks charges with a three-hit, five-strikeout showing over eight innings in the Aug. 7, 2005, finale.
Mound workers will have similarly-large anticipated roles in the 2006 playoffs as home runs have been harder to hit with a plethora of solid arms this summer.
A recent example is TCU freshman Taylor Cragin of Euless with a 4-1 triumph over the Plano Blue Sox Tuesday night in Planos home closer. The young righty advanced to 6-0 after retiring the first 19 Blue Sox batsmen and moved to within one win of tying McKinneys Allen Harrington (Lamar) for the most wins in the league to date.
Coppells Todd also enters his final week with a TCL-high 83 strikeouts just ahead of Donald Furrow (69 whiffs) of Weatherford and TCU. Harrington enters Wednesday night action in third place in the strikeouts category with 68 while following among the league Ks leaders are Seth Garrison of Duncanville and Navarro with 64 and Randy Boone of Coppell and Texas with 60.
Hurlers who have taken their squads to the brink of the playoffs include (along with Harrington and Cragin) Boone (6-0, 0.87 ERA), Joseph Krebs (5-0, 1.83) of Coppell and Texas, Jonathan Runnels (5-3, 2.56) of McKinney and San Jacinto JC, Will Skelton (4-0, 2.57) of Denton and TCU, Andrew Benedict (2-1, 2.18) of Mineral Wells and Texas-San Antonio, relief ace Alex Chalfant (2-1, 1.50) of Graham and UNLV, and TyRelle Harris (5-2, 3.69) of McKinney and Pacific.
Swinging the big bats for potential playoff teams as they enter their final four outings are McKinneys Matt Cavagnaro (.361-1 HR-21 RBI) of Penn State, Dentons Aljay Davis (.353-2 HR-25 RBI) of Oklahoma, Grahams Jarod Freeman (.341-3 HR-28 RBI) of Oklahoma, Euless Aaron Luna (.333-1 HR-12 RBI) of Rice, Coppells Tyler Hill (.317-0 HR-18 RBI) of Wichita State, and Mineral Wells Nick Santos (.286-2 HR-12 RBI) of Dallas Baptist, among others.