TEXARKANA, Texas — The Class 4A Texas UIL state baseball tournament will have a team from Bowie County participating.
Liberty-Eylau (29-10-2) will face cross-town and District 15-4A rival Pleasant Grove (31-8) in the Region II-4A final series. All games are set for 7 p.m. at Texas High, starting today.
This is the furthest the Leopards have advanced in the state tournament since 2007. Head coach Zach Fowler and assistant coach Ricky Rushing were members of that team.
"This whole experience has been a whirlwind," Fowler said. "We have some really great kids, and they've made it fun. We just need to make sure we can do everything we can, so it's not over this weekend."
Pleasant Grove, coming off a 2-0 sweep of Melissa in the regional semifinals, are led by head coach Riley Fincher.
"L-E is well coached, and they play with a lot of energy and excitement," Fincher said. "They are playing with a lot of confidence, and they've had that all year. They are one of eight teams left in the state of Texas. Anytime a team is one of eight, they are playing well and are a good team.
"Our kids are excited, and they understand what is at stake. They couldn't ask for anything better than to have an opportunity to win a regional championship, go to state and represent Texarkana. And they have a chance to do it in Texarkana. It's always exciting to play the game, but to have the opportunity to advance to state in Texarkana against a local team will make for an outstanding atmosphere and an outstanding series."
Game 2 is Thursday at Tiger Field at 7 p.m., and if they series is tied a third game is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
"I think this is a unique event that the town has never had before," Fowler said. "I think it's cool that the kids on both sides get to say they played in a series like this. Nobody else in this city can say they've played in regional finals like this, which makes it exciting."
The Leopards are led in the field by Hunter Burks, Colby Brooks, Gage Bellatti, Nate Moore, Ron Garza, Braylon Blair, Zach Brush, Xander Worthey and Bryce Blackwell.
"Everything that this team has accomplished up to this point hasn't been done in the program since 2007, and it's fulfilling as a coaching staff," Fowler said. "We're all alumni on the coaching staff, so to see where the program has climbed is awesome to see. We all have a unique look at the program, so we just want to continue to make our community proud."
Typical Hawk starters are designated hitter Brock Bearden, right fielder/pitcher Alex Galvan, second baseman/center fielder Brenton Clark, shortstop/pitcher JM Long, third baseman Alex Murphy, first baseman/pitcher Tucker Anderson, catcher Cason Head and left fielder Hayden Koller.
"The game starts on the mound, and we have to get outstanding pitching performances from everyone on our staff," Fincher said. "We will have to limit the number of outs that they have and, defensively, play a clean, sound game."
Pleasant Grove pitchers are Galvan, Anderson, Carson Rhodes, Blake Jennings, Reid Bingham, Nathan Hutcheson, Coe Blain, Long, Aiden Murray and Hudson Twisdale. Cade Martin, Josh Brown, McCauley Langford and Jaden Parker round out the roster.
"It's going to be a fun atmosphere and exciting for the city of Texarkana," Fincher said. "We are able to play this series in town. The kids deserve it. They deserve the atmosphere, on both teams. They have worked hard all year. There is a lot of excitement building up to the series. We are ready to play."
Zander Hall, Shawn White, Hagen Power, Ethan Bickerstaff, Dylan Garton, Krayson Battle, Austin Gonzalez and Jayquon Roberts will provide depth for the Leopards as reserves.
"Both teams are similar, so this will be a really good series," Fowler said. "It's going to come down to which team can make the least amount of mistakes."
The UIL seeds four teams at the state competition and draws for opponents. The winner of the series will face a yet to be determined team.
The Class 4A state tournament semifinals are June 9 at 1 and 4 p.m. at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, and the Class 4A championship game is June 10 at 6:30 p.m. back at Disch-Falk Field.