Heading to Austin to compete on the state level – or Arlington, or Round Rock, or Georgetown – has turned into almost an annual event for teams in the Kilgore High School athletics.
This time, it’s Kilgore baseball’s turn.
The Diamond ‘Dogs, coached by Eugene Lafitte, can punch their ticket to the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A state tournament, scheduled to begin next Wednesday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on the University of Texas at Austin campus, by winning one more playoff series. That would be the UIL Region II championship.
There is, of course, this caveat: the Bulldogs (27-4 this season) have a pretty formidable opponent, undefeated Argyle (33-0).
The best-of-three-game series between KHS and Argyle will be played in Corsicana, at James G. Price Field, and it starts tonight at 7:30. Game two will be Thursday night at 7:30, and game three, if it’s needed, will be Friday night at 7:30; the entire series is slated to be played at Corsicana.
Kilgore will be the home team for tonight’s game one.
Argyle has some very nice recent baseball history.
The Eagles, coached by Ricky Griffin, won the 4A state championship in 2015, and the year before that, they were the runner-up in 3A. They’re in the regional final for the fourth time in five years.
This would be Argyle’s first trip to the state tournament since they won the title back in ’15. And among those 33 wins are two wins over Kilgore’s most recent opponent, Crandall, which Kilgore knocked out in the regional semis.
Argyle knocked off playoff rival Pleasant Grove in the semis, and boasts a strong pitching staff, including Sean Bolin, who is 8-0 with a 0.64 ERA, and Bryson Hudgens, an even-better 11-0, and has a 0.88 ERA.
Kilgore, of course, has a great playoff history, as well. The Bulldogs’ only two state tournament appearances were in the early 1970s in back-to-back seasons, but Kilgore is consistently good. This is the Bulldogs’ first trip to the regional finals since that almost-mythical 2004 team that boasted future pros Jess Todd and Pat McCrory, but that team, good as it was, fell to Cleburne in the regional finals and Cleburne went on to state.
Last year, Kilgore set the school’s new single-season record for wins, and then this season, the Bulldogs surpassed that with their most recent victory (over Crandall on Friday in Tyler). Kilgore has won 53 games and two district championships the last two seasons, and making that trip to Austin for state would be the natural progression.
KHS is 8-0 in the postseason this year with wins over Henderson, Pittsburg, Center and Crandall. Friday’s win gave Lafitte – in his first season at Kilgore – his 300th career win.
Argyle has beaten Wilmer Hutchins, Aubrey, Melissa, and then PG.
Argyle might be facing its toughest test with Kilgore’s 1-2 starting pitching punch of Javan Smitherman and Chase Hampton. Smitherman, a senior, is 10-2 with a 1.02 ERA, 131 strikeouts, and having allowed only 43 hits and 15 walks all season. He’s a Dallas Baptist University signee.
Hampton is just a sophomore, but has pitched like he had way more experience than that. Hampton is 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA, 77 strikeouts, having allowed 42 hits and 15 walks.
Kilgore is also strong in relief, with guys like Brayden Johnson, Cole Thompson, Conner Martin, Ren Reynolds, Gus Witt and Harlee Biggs.
The Bulldogs have a .322 batting average as a team, and a .427 on-base percentage. Smitherman leads the team with 32 RBI; Reynolds, a Frontier (Ill.) Community College signee, leads with 51 hits on the season.