MELISSA — The Cardinals had become one of the top contenders in the region over the past three seasons, reaching the third round in Class 2A during both 2011 and 2012.
Then realignment intervened and moved Melissa into new territory.
"We knew in 2010, we had to get things in place for the bump up," Cardinals head coach Joe Williams said. "We had to push the panic button in 2010 or else we were going to fall behind. The last two years have jump-started our program."
Melissa continued its winning ways even with a move to 3A and the Cardinals (23-7) open the postseason against Sanger (22-10) in a Class 3A Region II area round series at McKinney Boyd. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. on Friday with Games 2 and 3 at noon on Saturday.
"2A is in the past for us. We know there’s no going back," Williams said. "We’re trying to make our mark here."
A majority of the upperclassmen who made that mark in 2A are looking for another strong postseason push to close out their careers.
Camden Duzenack is hitting .402 with 11 doubles, five home runs, 27 RBI and 18 steals, Chris Smith is fourth on the team with 25 RBI and Landon Wilson, who missed the playoffs last season due to injury, has a team-leading earned run average (1.22) and is tied for the lead in wins at five.
"We’re playing up a classification so we had to step up," Williams said. "Our five seniors have done a good job of stepping up."
The newcomers to the lineup have also made an impact. Sophomore Cory Regan is tied with Wilson for wins and second on the staff in ERA, junior Grant Meeks has taken on more of a role and leads the team in innings pitched while junior transfers C.J. Tyler (.410, 9 homers and 41 RBI) and Cade Cruce (.402 with 22 RBI) jumped right in at the top of the order.
Melissa had to adjust to a new district with the move and almost went undefeated in District 12-3A.
"Our district, we knew Princeton and Bonham have had good playoff runs. We knew they’d be a challenge," Williams said. "We figured it was going to be about pitching depth. Every district game someone can beat you."
The Cardinals lost just once but it was almost costly. Melissa had a chance to earn the title outright and the first-round bye but lost to Princeton and needed to win a tie-breaker game to avoid playing in the bi-district round.
"It was definitely a wake-up call. We beat them twice before and they weren’t really close," Williams said. "We didn’t show up and to their credit they made plays. We had a lot of learning experiences from that."
Sanger, which tied Bridgeport for the District 9-3A title but lost the tie-breaker game for the first-round bye, advanced with a series victory against Frisco Lone Star.
The Indians rallied in the seventh inning of Game 1 for a 3-2 victory, lost the second game, 7-6, and then put together another rally for a 12-11 win in Game 3.
"They’re a team that can do everything pretty good," Williams said. "The thing that is most impressive is they have a knack for playing well in close games. That’s a good quality to have and a challenging quality to have for an opponent."