Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
AZLE – After a successful District 10-1A runner-up season, the Santo Wildcats' year came to a halt in the first round of the playoffs Saturday, when the Chico Dragons handed them an authoritative two-game sweep in their best-of-three, bi-district series.
Despite losing their lone regular season meeting, 18-10, on March 1, the Wildcats started strong in the first game of the postseason series and looked like they might be able to string together some wins.
But a late-game rally by Chico in game one spelled doom for Santo's bid to build a series lead and the Dragons were ultimately able to ride that momentum to a dominant victory in game two.
"I think we played as well as we could," Santo head coach Brandon Young said. "Our pitching kind of struggled, but our bats kept us in game one. It just wasn't enough in the end."
As they had all year, Santo's bats were the difference-maker in game one, helping the 'Cats to a 4-2 lead through the first five innings.
Dylan Swinney pitched quite a gem for most of the game, with a final line that included 10 strikeouts, but in the top of the sixth frame, the wheels started to fall off.
Chico tied the game at four in the sixth and Santo was only able to add on one run to give them a precarious 5-4 lead heading into the game's final frame.
With the game on the line, Chico exploded to a four-run seventh that the 'Cats were not able to answer. The result was an 8-5 loss, in which Chico only registered one hit to Santo's eight.
The loss in game one foreshadowed the one that was to come in the way that Santo was bitten by the error bug. Despite seven errors by Chico, Santo committed five errors in key situations that lead to three unearned runs – the difference in the game.
Young said a failure to pound the strike zone that led to 10 total walks – six of which came from Swinney – was also a contributing factor.
"We gave them too many free bases with hit batters and walks," he said. "They squeezed us pretty good at the plate and Swinney couldn't control his pitches really well on the corners."
After squeaking out a win on day one, Chico was relentless when they took the diamond for game two.
In a game that lasted just five innings, the Dragons held Santo scoreless for the first three frames and rode 13 hits to a 19-4 victory that included a 10-run fourth inning.
"They were just hitting us pretty good," Young said of the loss. "We just didn't really play like we normally do. I don't know if the wind was out of us or what. Give all the credit to Chico. They really took it to us."
Looking back on the Wildcats' season, Young said that pitching was always the question and how the performed would dictate their level of success. An early playoff exit aside, it's fair to conclude that Santo's 2-14 campaign was a successful one.
Not only did the Wildcats finish second in their district, but they also dealt district champion Albany their only district loss of the season. The fact that they parlayed their regular season into a playoff appearance means that Santo's baseball team has not missed the postseason for as long as some of their players have been alive.
It's a great foundation to continue to build on for a team with a lot of youth.
"These guys that pitched this year, it was really their first time to be put in the hot seat," Young said. "We're just going to have to continue to get better in the offseason. But 15 to 16 years in the playoffs says a lot about a program. I'm proud of them. We'll get some new district competition next year and we'll see where it goes from there."
Next season, Santo baseball will begin it's foray into District 13-2A. They will be joined by familiar district foes Gordon, Lipan and Ranger as well as some new faces in De Leon, Gorman and Tolar.