Baseball: Eagles prepare for region final

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, May 31, 2017
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CELEBRATING – Members of the Decatur baseball team show off their trophy and banner following the win over Gilmer that put them into the region final game. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The Decatur Eagles are one step away from the program’s first state tournament appearance.

Standing between them and a trip to Austin is a team used to this spotlight and making the June journey south – Texarkana Pleasant Grove.

Decatur will meet the eight-time state tournament team in the 4A Region II final series at Mike Carter Field in Tyler, starting with game one at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Game two is slated for noon Thursday and the third game, if necessary, to follow.

Since 2008, Pleasant Grove has made the region final every year but 2014 and advanced to the state tournament in all but two years (2014 and 2015). Pleasant Grove reached the state semifinal last year.

“You have to beat the best to get to that point,” said Decatur coach Brian Tickell about the matchup with Pleasant Grove. “We’re the underdog. We have to play good baseball.”

Pleasant Grove (33-3) swept District 9-4A champion Argyle over the weekend in the region semifinal (6-1 and 8-0) to set up the showdown with Decatur (27-10). Pleasant Grove enters the game on a nine-game winning streak and is 8-0 in the playoffs.

“Their pitching is what really stands out,” Tickell said. “They have two guys that throw hard and have good off-speed pitches.

“They play solid defensively, too.”

Caleb Bolden struck out 12 and held Argyle to a run on three hits in game one. Bolden is 14-1 on the season.

Tyler Jeans blanked Argyle on three hits over six and one-third innings in game two with six strikeouts.

Decatur has excelled during its playoff run at getting runners on base and not always on hits. The Eagles have earned 53 walks in the postseason and 31 times those free passes have turned into runs. Decatur has also scored 19 unearned runs.

“We have to swing the bat, put the ball in play and get runners in scoring position,” Tickell said. “If we can get some walks, we’ll be OK. It’s just a matter of getting runners on base.”

Tickell pointed out that his team has around 175 stolen bases this season.

Decatur pitching has been it’s strength all season. In the playoffs, the Eagles have four shutouts (Bryce Elder 3 and Wilson Hicks 1).

Elder is coming off throwing six and one-third innings in the 2-0 win over Gilmer in the region semifinal. He struck out 10 and walked four. Elder is 8-2 for the year and 3-1 in the playoffs.

Hicks came in and got the final two outs against Gilmer. He’s 3-0 in the playoffs with a save.

“We have to pitch well and limit our mistakes,” Tickell said. “We don’t want to give up crooked numbers.”

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