Canyon’s pitchers put it on the line in one-game regional semifinal against Springtown

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Canyon pitcher Bayler Schilling celebrates during a series win against West Plains during the Class 4A regional quarterfinal round last week. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
After sweeping three playoff series to get to this point, the Canyon Eagles have proven themselves to be well-armed.

Thursday evening, though, they’ll have only one chance to use their pitching arsenal, and they need to do so wisely.

That’s because Canyon isn’t playing what’s become the traditional best-of-three series against the Springtown Porcupines in the Class 4A region semifinals. Instead, the Eagles face win or else situation against Springtown, with a one-game series scheduled for 6 p.m. at Wolfforth Frenship.

Canyon coach John Doan, considering the depth of pitching he enjoys this season, would have preferred a three-game series. However, that’s not what fate had in mind.

“There was just a quick text message the evening at the conclusion of the West Plains series,” Doan said. “I woke up Saturday morning to a text that said we’d like to flip you guys for one game. We did everything we could to get a series, but as it turns out (Springtown) did win the flip. That’s what we have in front of us.

“There’s no real soft landing there. The sense of urgency in our guys says we’re ready to go. We know what’s at stake. I think the initial shock of a one-gamer at this time of the year after you’ve been in it so long, our guys could not be in a better mindset.”

Canyon (27-7-1) is in this position largely because of pitching. Aside from an 8-7 win over Canyon ISD rival West Plains in the first game of last week’s series, the Eagles haven’t given up more than two runs in any of their other five playoff games.

Obviously, Canyon’s pitchers have been up to the task in a best-of-three series. That had to draw the attention of Springtown (24-8), who felt it was worth the risk to try for a one-game series.

“Generally, if you flip for one game you have a lot of confidence in one pitcher and maybe a relief guy,” Doan said. “This year I think we’re a team that’s built for a series. Since scrimmage number one they’ve done an excellent job on the mound. Offensively we’ve struggled to put up runs now and then.”

Christian McGuire has been a major asset for the Canyon on the mound this year. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Not to mention the fact that in the playoffs in particular, opponents have struggled to put up runs against the Eagles. It doesn’t seem to matter who the Eagles put on the mound.

With only one game to worry about, it would seem the mound options are endless for Doan. He could start senior Christian McGuire (who started game one against West Plains), junior Colt Cruth (the starter and winner in game two) or sophomore Bayler Schilling (a relief specialist who has three saves and a win in the postseason).

Doan will use whoever he has to in order to move on to next week’s region final.

“You can stack your pitching up,” Doan said. “You don’t have to have a guy necessarily have to work his way out of a jam or get out of trouble. It just depends on the situation, but you can always turn the page to another effective guy and that’s the luxury we have.”
With the increased sense of urgency demanded from a one-game playoff, it’s a case of all hands on deck pitching-wise.

“Whether it’s a starter or a reliever I just want to be out there and be able to perform for my team,” said McGuire, who has three playoff starts and plays shortstop and hits leadoff when he’s not pitching. “I don’t have any role since it’s whatever coach says. At any moment I’ll be ready. The goal is to keep winning and keep the family together.”

That means keeping the season going. McGuire is a strong candidate to start, but since his defense at short is so strong, that might make Cruth a more likely possibility to start.
He proved more than up to that task in game two against West Plains, as he threw four innings and gave up only one unearned run in a series clinching 9-1 victory.

“I’m going to do whatever the team needs me to do to get the W and move on,” Cruth said. “There’s especially more pressure now that it’s a one-game series. You can’t fall back and if you lose this one you can come back. It’s one and done so there’s definitely a lot more pressure, but I’m confident we can do it.”

Cruth yielded to Schilling in the fifth inning and there was no mound dropoff. Schilling slammed the door shut with three shutout innings, further solidifying his role as Canyon’s closer.

Schilling has started this season, but since the middle of district play he’s been a reliever, and has taken to the role.

“I’ve definitely become a reliever and I love it honestly,” Schilling said. “Bringing all the energy to close out the game is great. You definitely get hyped up and leave it all out on the field.”

The Canyon Eagles enter the Class 4A regional semifinals at 27-7-1 on the year. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Since there’s little margin for error, whoever starts will be on a short leash, and whoever comes on in relief will have to be ready if Springtown looks on the cusp of a big inning.

“There really is no reason where if we feel like (the Porcupines) get on a little bit of a roll, what a great way to change the rhythm,” Doan said. “We’re in one game and we have a bench full of guys who can perform on the mound. We certainly don’t want to play around with it. If we’ve got a guy on the mound with a hot hand we’re going to want to keep him out there.”

Junior Zabien Urteaga is another right-hander who could relieve, and sophomore Noah Sanchez threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in the first game against West Plains, picking up a win by keeping the Wolves at bay while the Eagles mounted an epic two-out rally to win in the seventh.

Doan thinks Springtown will throw Brayden Fox, who has committed to Angelo State. He’ll also make the decision about who starts for the Eagles, which McGuire says he won’t question.

“That’s not my job to worry about,” McGuire said. “Wherever the lineup says I’m starting that’s where I’m at and I’ll do my best in that role.”

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