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Mustang baseball eyes continuation of their winning ways at state

Andrew Brown - Sports Reporter
DCG head baseball coach Byron Peyton talking with catcher Cole Wessling and pitcher Logan Smith following the top half of the first Monday, July 20 against Carroll in the substate semi-final. PHOTO BY ANDREW BROWN/DALLAS COUNTY NEWS

After a shortened yet intense regular season, the Dallas Center-Grimes baseball team is set to take on their eighth state tournament appearance in school history today at Principal Park.

It’s been a five-year hiatus for the Mustangs who last graced the state tournament scene back in 2015. Now, the Mustangs (17-3) will take on Principal Park with the second-highest seeding they’ve had in their time at state, now the second-seeded team in the Class 3A field. In their pursuit of a second state title, the Mustangs first must battle a rather unfamiliar team in Benton Community (13-11), a team DCG had never faced before. Interestingly enough, however, the Bobcats were present during the 2012 campaign where the Mustangs captured their lone state title.

The 2020 season has been seemingly the leadup to a state title run. After all, they enter the 3A state tournament field ranking top-five or better in 13 different statistical categories. The road was paved with various ways of winning for the Mustangs who could win with a lead, win with a deficit, win in a pitching duel, or win in an offensive slugfest.

“These guys may not be seasoned in the typical sense but they took everything in stride and didn’t get discouraged, they just learned and found ways to win,” said Mustang head coach Byron Peyton.

It was a rarity if fans caught a glimpse of anxiety and stress across the Mustang lineup in 2020. On the surface, you would think the Mustangs were a team made up of seniors who had nothing but four years of varsity experience under their belts. Nothing seemed to phase the Mustangs, not even an early postseason deficit which they faced in each of their three substate postseason battles.

“You never want to get down early but you have to keep calm and have a plan, knowing that you won’t get everything back at once,” began Peyton. “These guys realize that it’s not over until the last pitch is thrown and that there is always an opportunity.”

The Mustangs have faced and have overcome a variety of challenges and now they will face a type of battle that they’ve seen before in facing an underdog. Of course with the state tournament, things are amplified and the Mustangs will have to battle a Benton team that became one of just five teams to defeat the reigning Class 3A champions in Xavier. Similar to DCG’s 2012 run, Benton had to be on the entirely on the road for their state tournament run here in 2020. From pure experience, coach Peyton and his staff understand the power of never overlooking an opponent, something that the 2012 team showcased.”

“I wouldn’t sleep on any team in 3A and I can go back to 2012 when we won it,” began Peyton. “Our last two games were ten-run rule games and we were in a great frame of mind because of what happened in the first game.”

At that time, the top-ranked Mustangs took on eighth-seeded Washington in a game that took nine innings to complete with DCG pulling out the win 3-2. As the Mustangs look to keep their winning ways ongoing and avoid any upset, they will most likely turn towards an old reliable source…pitching. The Mustangs enter the 2020 state tournament as one of the best pitching teams in Class 3A with the second-best mark in ERA (2.29), the second-best mark in strikeouts (165), and walks allowed (47). Meanwhile, DCG pitching will take on Principal Park as the top 3A staff in earned runs allowed (43), hits allowed (97), and lowest opponent batting average (.171).

In leaning upon their pitching, the Mustang offense has flourished. Despite their postseason run, the Mustang offense has taken advantage of plenty of early scoring opportunities throughout the regular season, striking first with early leads in 13 of their 17 games leading up to substate. It was a recipe for success that put a lot of spark in the DCG scoring machine across 2020 and one that coach Peyton looks forward to with the state tournament.

“No doubt that is a key more so now than ever, the bigger the ball game the bigger a key it becomes,” said Peyton. “It’s easier said than done and some of that is reliant upon preparation and not waiting until the game is starting to get your act together. It will be important for this team from a momentum standpoint to start off strong with pitching and then get out ahead offensively in the bottom half.”

That will make an interesting battle as Benton comes in as a team that has produced 50 percent of its runs in the fifth inning or later.

Within the conversation of Principal Park itself, the Mustangs, and every team to grace the state tournament is also prevalent. It not only means a venue better than most have ever played on but a venue with dimensions much bigger than most fields posses.

“If you let a ball get by you in the outfield, you basically need a golf cart to get it,” joked Peyton. “You also can’t be swinging for the fences because even a ball hit 400 feet can still be an out. It’ll be important for us to hit the ball hard and try to hit the gaps. Defensively I feel we’re prepared for the dimensions of Principal.”

The battle for the right to move on in state tournament action for DCG will kick off with the first pitch from Principal Park at 4:30 p.m.