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THE FINAL HURDLE

Hawks beat Hereford, face Argyle tonight in Region 1-4A championship
By: 
Kevin Hamilton
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Iowa Park Hawks, 1-4A Region Semifinal Champs

EDITOR'S NOTE: Because the 1-4A Region final between Iowa Park and Argyle will be played the day prior to the printed issue, this story is being made available Wednesday afternoon as a service to our readers.

 

Iowa Park’s Hawk baseball team completed a school-record fourth consecutive playoff series sweep this past week over Hereford 1-0, 3-0 to capture the 1-4A Regional Semifinal title, earning them the right to advance Wednesday to the 1-4A Region final over the defending 4A champs and No. 2-ranked team in the nation in the Argyle Eagles.

The 1-4A final will be a one-game playoff set for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Abilene Christian University. The winner will advance to the state tournament in Austin Wednesday and Thursday.

Playing Wednesday and Thursday in fairly stiff wind conditions, Iowa Park (33-2) bested Hereford with back-to-back pitching gems by senior Chris Dickens and junior Kaleb Gafford.

Dickens pitched a two-hit shutout Wednesday, going seven innings and striking out eight batters in the 1-0 win.

On Thursday afternoon in front of a vocal Iowa Park crowd, Gafford pitched a two-hit 3-0 shutout, going seven innings and also striking out eight Hereford batters.

The score was 0-0 Wednesday until the fourth inning. Kaden Teafatiller doubled to right, then pinch runner Kade Thomas advanced to third on a sacrifice grounder by Dickens. Thomas then scored on a sacrifice grounder by Gafford.

The Hawks had four total hits on the contest from Teafatiller, Kase Johnson, Braxton Briones and Gafford.

On Thursday, the score was tight once again until the top of the fifth when the Hawks put all three runs on the scoreboard.

Johnson was hit by pitch to make first, then advanced to third on a hard grounder to right by Braxton Briones.

Johnson then advanced home on a balk by the Hereford pitcher for a 1-0 score, and Briones advanced to second. Teafatiller was then hit by the pitcher to make first.

With Dickens at the plate, Briones stole third, then scored on a throwing error. Tom Garrett Slack running for Teafatiller, stole home on a passed ball for the 3-0 lead.

Briones had the hot bat for the Hawks, going three-for-four including a double. Johnson and Gafford had the other hits for Iowa Park.

“It was a little nerve-wracking, to be honest,” Coach Michael Swenson said of the low-scoring series sweep over the Whitefaces.

Swenson noted the wind, which was blowing in from centerfield, benefitted Hereford because the outfield was able to play shallow, closing the gaps available for a hit.

“We hit a lot of balls hard that got up in the air, and they basically hung up,” he said. “Offensively, it was frustrating. I think with that we started to press a little, and do things that are uncharacteristic with us.

“But our pitchers both threw two-hit shutouts. It is hard to lose when you don’t give up any runs,” Swenson continued. “Defense played pretty well. I think we had one or two errors in the series. It is hard to play clean, error-free baseball all weekend long. But we made the plays we needed to make, and got out of some jams with big pitches or big plays.”

An observation the Hawk coach made of the series may play into Iowa Park’s approach against Argyle in the region final.

“They (Hereford) were kind of the underdog .... they hadn’t been in that round in like 31 years. They came out and they played carefree. They played loose. It almost worked for them. But we did what we needed to do to advance. That’s all that matters at this point of the year. You just want to advance.”

PLAYING ARGYLE

Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Iowa Park and Argyle were the odds-on favorites to meet in the 1-4A region final.

The Hawks got there by playing a solid non-conference schedule, winning District 6-4A with an unbeaten record, then sweeping Sweetwater, Godley, Decatur and Hereford in consecutive best-of-three series.

Argyle, after going undefeated during their 2018 run to the state title, lost their No.1-ranking in the country with a non-conference loss to defending Class 6A state champ Southlake Carroll. Other than a subsequent non-conference tie, the Eagles (37-1-1) have started to steamroll, sweeping their district, starting with a 7-3, 5-1 bi-district win over Stephenville, then a 2-1, 15-0 area win over Graham.

From there, Argyle dominated Brownwood in the quarterfinals by a combined score of 32-1, and outscored Canyon 28-1 in the semifinal series.

All but one player on the 2018 championship team has returned for this season, including 10 Division I commits and signees.

In 17 games against 4A teams this season, Argyle is 17-0 and has outscored its opponents 160-18.

So how is Swenson preparing his Hawks for the big game?

The first task was to win a flip against Argyle coach Ricky Griffin for a one-game playoff, as opposed to a best-of-three series.

Swenson said the decision to go for a single elimination game was made after consultation with his players and coaches, and finally his own thoughts. Turns out it was a consensus agreement by the team.

“I started with the seniors, then everybody else,” he said. “We all agreed that Argyle hadn’t lost but one game in two years. So the odds of us beating them twice in one weekend was high. So we all felt this is our best shot.”

As for how the Hawks approach the game, Swenson said they are borrowing the same attitude as Hereford did against them.

“You just go out there and throw it all out there,” he said. “It is what it is. We are not supposed to beat them, so we don’t have anything to lose.

“We have been on the other side of this, where we flipped and played tight in a one-game series. So we are going to use those experiences in our favor. We know what it’s like where the better team feels that pressure and that knot in their stomach that anything can happen in a one-game series. It is just the way the game goes.”

Swenson was quick to praise his own team for their success this season. “We are a very good team. I’m not taking anything away from our kids.

“But those guys (Argyle) are really good. They’ve been really good for a long time. And don’t just give Division I scholarships away.

“At the same time, we feel like we can play a little bit too,” he said. “We feel like we match up. And we are just going to go out there and give everything we have.