ROUND ROCK — Ricky Griffin, sometime around the third or fourth inning of Argyle’s UIL 5A baseball state semifinal against Boerne Champion on Thursday at Dell Diamond, delivered some not-so-upbeat news to his team.
“We’re going to lose 2-0 if y’all don’t take better at-bats,” Argyle’s state title-winning coach said.
The situation: Argyle trailed Champion by two runs after two innings and, thanks in part to a rather tight strike zone courtesy of the home plate umpire and a lineup that repeatedly swung at pitches outside of that zone, were without a hit through four.
The message Griffin offered to his team?
“If you have a really tight zone,” Griffin said. “You’ve got to make the guy throw strikes.”
Hey, the man didn’t win three state championships without an understanding of how to compete.
Argyle reached base 10 times and scored two runs — on seven walks and three hit batters — before it even recorded its first hit in a 5-2 win over Champion. A three-time state champion (2019, 2018, 2014), Argyle will play Magnolia West in the 5A state championship game on Saturday at Dell Diamond.
It’ll be Argyle’s second-consecutive state championship game and first at the 5A classification. It lost to Sinton in last year’s 4A state title game before rising in class prior to this school year.
“I think we’ve got a shot to win it,” Argyle senior Colton Roqeumore said. “Last year, it was a tough loss. Coming back this year in a new level, 5A, it’s pretty special, it’s pretty sweet.”
So, back to the bats (or, the lack thereof). Argyle, which walked four times in the first three innings, tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth like this: Alex D’Angelo was hit by a pitch with one out, and with two outs, Conor Lillis walked, Hunter Sandifer was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Brayden Rosckes walked to score Argyle’s first run. The lineup turned over and leadoff hitter Roquemore — who’d already walked twice in the first and the third — was hit by a pitch to drive in the tying run.
Argyle freshman Grady Emerson (TCU pledge) walked to lead off the fifth and advanced to third base on a one-out single from D’Angelo — Argyle’s first of the game. Dallas Baptist pledge Park Prater, who started at pitcher for Argyle, drove in Emerson with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2.
“They responded well,” Griffin said. “It’s kind of a microcosm of our season: we don’t play very well and then we find a way to win late, and that’s kind of what we’ve done in the playoffs.”
Lillis followed Prater’s sacrifice fly with a single, then Sandifer walked to load the bases again. Argyle scored its fourth run on a balk from Champion pitcher Rowdy Miller. Rosckes was then hit by a pitch — Argyle’s fourth such occurrence of the game — before Roqeumore flew out to end the inning.
Argyle loaded the bases again in the sixth on a Grady Emerson single and back-to-back walks from Micah Roberts and D’Angelo. Prater drove in Emerson with a sacrifice fly to right field to make it 5-2.
“You’ve got to stay gritty, you’ve got to make them throw strikes,” said Roqeumore. “You’ve got to work the counts and eventually they’ll walk you, which they did, they walked us quite a bit.”
Quite a bit might be an understatement. Argyle totaled 10 walks, four batters hit by pitches and three hits. The 5A state tournament record for walks, according to UIL archives, is 11. Champion (33-12-1) totaled eight walks and two hits.
Champion manufactured its first run after a leadoff walk from Jordan Ballin (UTSA pledge) in the top of the first inning. Ballin moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on a throwing error from Argyle catcher Hunter Sandifer to make it 1-0. Champion sophomore Grant Kinzel led the second off with a single and scored on a double from Gage Goldberg — the son of former WWE superstar Bill Goldberg — to make it 2-0.
Reid Ross relieved Prater (2.1 innings pitched, one earned run, four walks) and pitched 4.2 scoreless, no-hit innings to finish the game. He induced double plays to end both the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
“We didn’t expect to pitch him at all tonight,” Griffin said. “What you needed tonight was just a strike thrower.”
Strikes. Those things were hard to come by on Thursday in Round Rock. Griffin, who won his 500th career game earlier this postseason, called it “incredibly frustrating as a coach.”
A chance for a fourth state title should help ease those nerves.
FINAL — Argyle 5, Boerne Champion 2.— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) June 9, 2023
Argyle is headed back to the state championship game, this time in 5A.
They worked 10 walks, had four batters hit by pitches and only had three hits. A weird game, but all that matters is the win. @Argyle_Baseball pic.twitter.com/iXaNokbgv1
On Twitter: @McFarland_Shawn