MELISSA — The school’s record book is full of numbers put there by Camden Duzenack. But for a stretch at the beginning of his senior season, the numbers just weren’t there.
"I didn’t get many good pitches and I hadn’t felt comfortable at the plate. I had to let my swing take care of the problem," Duzenack said. "Towards the end of the season I started feeling more comfortable with my swing. I feel pretty locked in at the plate and perfect timing."
Duzenack is heating up at just the right time, helping the Cardinals continue the best season in school history as Melissa (27-8) faces Longview Spring Hill (18-13) in a Class 3A Region II semifinal series.
Game 1 is tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Lindale while Games 2 and 3 are at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Sunnyvale.
Duzen-ack was 7-for-12, with five extra-base hits, and eight RBI as the Cardinals defeated Argyle last weekend.
"I knew he’d have a big series, just not that big," Melissa head coach Joe Williams said. "He was pressing a little bit. He got in a slump during district. This series he saw the ball so well."
The Cardinals had made the region quarterfinals each of the last two seasons before losing against perennial 2A power Brock. Melissa moved up to 3A and has continued to succeed.
"Going into the season our motto was ‘play up, step up,’" Duzenack said. "We weren’t worried that 3A was going to overwhelm us. It’s definitely new ground for us but I wouldn’t say it’s unexpected."
A big reason is the steady presence of Duzenack, who has signed with Dallas Baptist.
His hot streak has made his senior season — a .410 batting average, 50 runs, 13 doubles, seven home runs, 36 RBI, 21 steals — look like his previous three. He was the district MVP as a junior when he hit .455 with 56 runs, 15 doubles, eight homers, 34 RBI and 28 stolen bases. He was a second-team all-state selection as a sophomore when he hit .564 with 22 doubles, nine home runs and 51 RBI. Duzenack hit .370 with six doubles, five triples, 31 runs and 21 RBI during his freshman season.
"He’s the definition of consistency," Williams said. "His day-to-day approach is great. When your best player is the hardest worker, you’ve got something special."
Melissa rallied for a series victory against Argyle, winning the last two games after missing a chance to take the opener.
Argyle used a comeback to take that Game 1, 9-8, despite just five hits, but the Cardinals followed Duzenack’s lead the next two days.
"They were mad and ready to play again. Our kids are so competitive," Williams said. "They wanted to go back out there and fight. Our seniors really stepped up for us, showed a lot of leadership in the dugout."
Down 5-0 after two in innings in Game 2, Melissa started its comeback thanks to a bases-loaded error that scored four runs. The Cardinals took the lead for good in the fourth and Duzenack was 3-for-4, a single shy of the cycle, and had three RBI in the 12-10 victory.
"We’re not going to get it back on one hit, just be patient," Williams said. "We put the ball in play with two strikes and they made mistakes."
Zach Torres earned the save when he got the final out with the bases loaded. Grant Meeks, Cory Regan and Garrett Vestal chipped in offensively as well.
"The bottom of the order battled and got some great hits and that set things up for the top of the lineup," Williams said.
There wasn’t much late drama in the deciding game, a 13-4 victory where Cade Cruce earned the win after settling down. Argyle again had the early advantage — 3-0 in the third, but Melissa took a 5-3 lead. The Cardinals scored eight times in the seventh to put the game away on a grand slam by Duzenack and a two-run blast by Cruce.
"I know when we’re on we can beat anyone. You’ve got to be hot at the right time," Williams said. "We have all the qualities to do it."
Spring Hill, which was barely above .500 when the playoffs started, advanced with a come-from-behind series victory against district rival Gilmer. Spring Hill finished third in the 16-3A standings but found a way to win twice on Saturday against the district champ after losing the opener, 4-2. Spring Hill won Game 2, 7-4, followed by a 9-3 victory.
"They’re scrappy. They’ve won a lot of one-run games," Williams said. "They’ve been down after Game 1 and won both series. They’re tough to put away."
The Panthers got strong contributions from underclassmen to get to the fourth round. Sophomore Hagen Tucker was 4-for-4 with four RBI in the pivotal Game 3 and classmate Parker White earned the victory.
Senior Matt Williams leads the teams with a .432 average and has driven in 19 runs while classmate Ben Hollas is hitting .404 with 11 doubles and junior Nathan Methvin has a team-high 20 RBI and is right at .400. No other Panther is hitting better than .312.
Methvin is Spring Hill’s top pitcher with a 7-1 record and 2.08 earned run average and 50 strikeouts in 60.2 innings.
"We’re not going to pay attention to their record because you get this far, you’re legit," Williams said. "I’ve been impressed with them."