BROCK, Texas — The Jaguars knew well the daunting task that stood in front of it before Thursday's area round matchup against Abilene Wylie High at Brock High School.
They knew the opponent well, too, after losing to 12-1 and 5-1 in back-to-back games to the Bulldogs during the area round of the playoffs in 2016.
The series 6-5 finish on Friday, though, may have shown the gap between the powerhouse and the upstart program is shrinking.
Despite Thursday's 8-0 shutout loss, the Jaguars rallied in game two and forced a team that came within a handful of games of claiming state title gold, straighten up and take notice of the new kid on the block.
And while Abilene Wylie struck fast, hard and often during the first game of the series, Head Coach Nick Junior and the Jaguars turned the tables through four innings in the second. Trey Bostic, who threw 110 pitches and struck out 11, walked four batters, committed six errors and allowed six runs on five hits, retired 16 of the 20 batters he faced before Sam King's single drove in Mason Schubert and earned the Bulldogs' first run and Bostic's wild pitch tied the game.
During that stretch, Bostic allowed two singles and a pair of walks and put out eight batters via strikeout. The Jaguars offense, with the help of a third-inning single by Brayton McDaniel, Cole Jones' reach of first base on a wild pitch and a score by McDaniel and a RBI double by Coby Calvery, took an early lead.
Despite a late-game rally sparked by the bats of Bostic and Calvery and back-to-back bunts by Jones and Laramie Sayles that pushed the score from 2-2 to 5-2, that small window of opportunity shrunk after a one-inning stalemate. Abilene Wylie struck back first with King and Schubert in the fifth inning and with a game-winning single by Bryce Gist in the bottom of the seventh.
The Bulldogs scored four unanswered runs in the final inning courtesy of a King two-RBI stand-up triple, a Conner Carlton double and Gist's game-winner off reliever Bryce Fuller and advanced to the regional quarterfinal against Midlothian Heritage's District 8-4A rival Alvarado High School.
The Jaguars closed their season 23-8 overall and 10-2 in District 8-4A play and reached the playoffs for the second year of the school's two-year existence. With the current roster construction, Junior's team improved from 13-18 overall and 6-5 in District 7-4A and nearly claimed the first district championship in Midlothian Heritage history.
Midlothian Heritage, though ousted from the postseason earlier than expected, have a strong group — including junior power hitter Nathan Gaskamp and sophomore starting catcher Cade Sumbler — returning next season, as well as a stable of young talent at the junior varsity, some of which may compete for starting positions.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.