Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
So far, the Mineral Wells Rams have achieved just about every goal they set out for themselves this season. They capped off a 17-10 season – including a historic season sweep of the state-ranked Kennedale Wildcats – with their third outright district championship in four years and a favorable playoff seeding.
Only one goal remains: a state championship. And the first step on the road to Austin takes the Rams to Bowie, where they are set to play one game against the Vernon Lions at 5 p.m. today.
The Lions (7-16, 2-6) squeaked into the playoffs as the fourth-place team in District 5-3A and present a favorable matchup, overall, for the District 6-3A champion Rams. But, after winning a coin flip, Vernon chose to play a single-game series at a neutral site, rather than a best of three. This could pose dangerous in a win-or-go-home scenario if the Lions can find some postseason magic.
"I try not to think about that," head coach Bret Barrick said. "That is my fear. When you go a one-game series, anything can happen. You just try to prepare them.
"The bottom line is we've been in a one-game series for the last two weeks. We're just going to try and stay focused, throw our best out there and hopefully everything will work out. We should be OK."
Despite his reservations about playing a one-game series to open the playoffs, Barrick said he is confident heading into a game against a team that he described as a less- talented version of the Rams' District 6-3A foes, Castleberry.
"From what I understand on the scouting report, they're kind of a lot like Castleberry," he said. "They've got some dangerous guys on the bases, if they get on. Their pitcher is not over-powering, but he's a competitor. They play hard and we're going to have to match that. If we go out and play our game, we don't have to worry about the opponent. If we play the best we can, we'll be fine."
It also should assuage any worries of the Ram faithful that Barrick said his team has had a solid week in practice preparing for the Vernon game.
"We've had some pretty good workouts this week," he said. "We had a really good day hitting the ball, [Wednesday]. Tuesday, we had a good defensive workout, too. The kids seem to be focused and I think they're ready to go."
Barrick said the plan is for sophomore Braxton Allen to start on the hill against the Lions. As the Rams’ best pitcher in many statistical categories – including a team-best 1.68 ERA, 55 strikeouts and a 6-1 record – Allen presents an arm that can eat innings and keep the Lions' offense grounded while the Rams' bats go to work.
However, the fact that the Rams will have a week off before their next game in the event of a victory means that Barrick has no qualms about using as many pitchers as necessary to secure a win.
Pitchers such as seniors Chris Rapp and Justyn Lee, junior Cameron Bullock and sophomore McCain Mason are all rested and could easily make relief appearances if called upon.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to win the game," Barrick said. "[Allen] is going to go as long as he can and, if we need to, everybody's available to come out in relief. If we have to, we'll use everybody. We're going to try to keep them off balance."
On the offensive end, Barrick said he hopes some strong batting practices will carry over into the game so that the Rams can jump on top of Vernon early and crush any hopes of an upset.
"Offensively, we've got to be able to create momentum with base hits, stealing and running and score some points," he said. "I think if we can get up on them early, things will go good for us."
The winner of Mineral Wells and Vernon can expect to play the winner between Alvarado and Burnet in the area round of the UIL Class 3A baseball playoffs.