Three years ago, the Melissa baseball program qualified for the UIL playoffs for the first time in school history. This year, the team finished three wins away from a state championship.
"That just goes to show how hard these kids have worked to build this program," Melissa coach Joe Williams said after the team’s playoff series over the June 1 weekend.
Melissa took on Pleasant Grove in the regional championship round of the UIL playoffs at Northeast Texas Community College, stretching the series to a full three games. Ultimately, the Cards were not able to dethrone the Hawks, who will play in their sixth consecutive state tournament this week.
"Pleasant Grove was a very worthy opponent," Williams said. "They are at the top of the mountain — exactly where we want to be. We were close, and with some hard work we will reload and work to get back to this point next year."
The Cardinals will be graduating five players this week, most notably standout Camden Duzenack, an all-star caliber player who ha signed to play Division 1 baseball at Dallas Baptist University this upcoming year.
"The leadership of our five seniors was outstanding this year," Williams said. "These kids can look back and know that they built a foundation of excellence here. Now, we need to continue to build on it."
Williams went on to thank the school and community for its support of the team throughout the playoffs.
Pleasant Grove 8,
In the third and final game of the Region 2 baseball finals, the Melissa Cardinals looked to capitalize on their momentum coming out of game two and take the series but Pleasant Grove was motivated to make it to their sixth consecutive State Tournament.
Pleasant Grove scored early, forcing the Cards to try and rally late but they would not be able to complete the rally as the Hawks were able to win 8-4 to advance.
Camden Duzenack started the game on the mound for the Cards and shut down the frame with ease, striking out two batters and fielding the other grounder, however in the second inning Pleasant Grove was able to get the best of the future Dallas Baptist University ball player.
After opening the inning with two walks, the Hawks scored a run with three straight batters before Melissa was able to get the first out of the inning. Two more walks loaded the bases and then Casey Rayburn hit a two RBI single that led to a pitching change for the Cards.
Duzenack ended the inning with a crowd-stunning double play and he finished the game like a man possessed, vacuuming up anything ball that came within 20 feet of his position. He was in on six of the next eight outs.
In the top of the third, Duzenack found second with a stand up double and then scored courtesy of a fielders error to get Melissa on the board. After a quiet fourth, the Hawks scored two insurance runs to take their advantage to six with just two innings left to play.
Facing elimination, Melissa came alive in the sixth when Duzenack led off with a solo home run over the tall wall in left field. It was the second homer of the series for Duzenack, both in the same place.
Cade Cruce was within feet of back-to-back homers but the ball bounced off the wall for a double. He advanced to third thanks to a sacrifice grounder by Zach Torres and the made it home when CJ Tyler hit a single up the right field line.
Tyler came home on a bases loaded walk to bring Melissa within three before the inning ended.
The Hawks scored once in the top of the seventh and Melissa had one last chance to extend or win the game but Pleasant Grove went deep into their bullpen and sent Dalton Willage, their ace that got the win and pitched eight innings on Thursday night, to the mound. Willage sat three straight batters to close out the game and secure their spot in Austin with a 8-4 win.
Pleasant Grove 0
On Thursday night, Melissa was able to even the series with a great defensive effort that lead to a 1-0 win. The Cards were lead by a gutsy, eight strike out, shut out win by Landon Wilson to set up the decisive game three at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Melissa’s lone run came in the fourth inning when Zash Torres tagged up on a fly ball and then hurdled and flipped over the catcher to touch home plate to score the winning run.
Pleasant Grove 4,
In a battle of the birds, Melissa (29-9-1) took on the Pleasant Grove Hawks at Eagle Field at Northeast Texas Community College on Thursday night and saw their winning streak fly away with a 4-2 loss in extra innings.
Pleasant Grove (26-13), the district champion from 13-3A was able to secure three runs in the final three innings to knot up and extend the game and then rally to win. Melissa came into the game with a perfect record in the playoffs looking to win the Region 2, 3A championship and advance to the state championship for the first time in school history but will now have to win two straight – with their next opportunity Friday at 7 p.m. at NETCC and then on Saturday at 2 p.m. if necessary.
The Hawks started the game off with a screaming line drive up the right field line that landed Alex Alsup on first base but Pleasant Grove was unable to take advantage of the fast start and finished the first inning scoreless. Trey Jeans walked to kick off the second inning and after advancing through the bases he came in courtesy a Jarod Bayless RBI single through the gap to help the Hawks get on the board first.
Their lead didn’t last long though, when Camden Duzenack came to the plate in the bottom of the third with his big bat in hand. There were two outs and Cory Regan was at second after taking a full-count walk when Duzenack knocked a fast ball over the big wall in left field to give Melissa a 2-1 lead.
Unfortunately for the Cards, they would be the only runners to come home in the game though.
Both teams went three-up, three-down in the fourth and fifth innings but in the top of the sixth Jeans hit a sacrifice ground out that brought Ty Harp in for the tying run.
Melissa finished closed out the top of the seventh inning strong, keeping the go-ahead run from scoring with Regan perfectly fielded a grounder and tossed it to Zach Torres to give the Cardinals one more chance to put the game away.
Chris Smith, the first Cardinals batter of the inning, hit a fly to center field that should have been fielded but was mishandled and put the winning run at first. Landon Wilson came to bat and hit the ball to the shortstop, who tossed it to second for the out.
Wilson would advance to third after a sacrifice bunt from Grant Meeks but the inning ended with an infield ground out and the game went into extra innings.
After seven strong innings, Cade Cruce was relieved at the mound by Wilson to start the eighth and the first two Hawk batters found a place on base. Melissa got two quick outs though and was ready to put away the inning when Bayless came up big again for Pleasant Grove – this time with a two-run single that was dropped in right field to give the Hawks the advantage.
Melissa got the next batter out but the damage had been done and the Cardinals needed two runs just to keep the game going. Three straight batters had no luck against the defensive minded Hawks, who went on to get the 4-2 win and take a 1-0 lead in the best of three series.