ROUND ROCK, Texas – Linden-Kildare High School is two wins away from the Tigers second state championship in baseball.
Several outstanding baseball players have walked across the stage to get their diplomas in Linden since that state title in 1980. The Tigers came close in 1984 and 1985, both teams advancing to the final four, only to be frustrated.
But it has been even more frustrating for Linden-Kildare players, coaches and supporters who must read history books of L-K’s last trip to state in 1985.
The Tigers (20-9) hope to take the first step to another crown Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Round Rock’s Dell Diamond against Valley Mills (28-6). The second semifinal game will follow, with defending 2A champion Dallardsville Big Sandy (34-4) facing Albany (23-7). The two winners will clash Thursday at noon for the championship.
“I don’t know a lot about the schools Valley Mills has played,” said L-K coach John Roberts. “From what I’ve been able to find out, Valley Mills is mostly seniors and juniors. The head coach’s (Shane Keeton) son (Chase Keeton) is one of their better pitchers. I hear they hit the ball really well, and score a lot of runs, but so have we. It looks like they’re going to be similar to us in my opinion.”
Valley Mills explosive en route to championship site
The Eagles have actually scored 10 or more runs 21 times this season. Keeton is the team’s leading hitter with a .543 average. He’s 7-3 on the mound. Senior Cooper Lane is unbeaten on the hilltop at 6-0, and is hitting .378. Depending on who is pitching, juniors Elijah DeGrate and Cooper Buxkemper are offensive weapons, hitting .432 and .406, respectively.
Valley Mills had eliminated Itasca, Crawford, Archer City and Windhorst in the 2A playoffs.
Roberts indicated he would probably start senior Jacob Owen on the mound against the Eagles. Owen is 7-2 on the season. Outfielder Colt Neville is expected to play for the Tigers after being injured in the James Bowie series.
“Owen started all of our must-win games,” said Roberts. “He should have won against James Bowie if we had taken care of our business.
“Everybody in Linden is really excited; we’ve got a lot of support. I’m expecting players from Linden-Kildare’s state championship team, and players from 1984 and ’85 to be in Round Rock cheering for us.”
Linden-Kildare’s tentative starters for semifinal
Other tentative starters for L-K are Dalton Alford (.437), Duece Shuler (.363), Nic Kunze (.436, 9 HR), Mason Johnson (.359), Caleb Cunningham (.348), Neville (.230), Trent Wert (.200) and Chase Bynum (.200).
The Tigers packed their bags, and got on the team bus Tuesday morning. There were to stop in Corsicana, and practice at Navarro Junior College, then continue the trip to Round Rock.
Roberts, and pretty much everyone else has tagged Big Sandy the favorite.
“They’ve got to be considered the favorite until somebody beats them,” he said. “This is the third year in a row that they’ve been down there.
Big Sandy has its top two pitchers back from the 2018 championship team. Senior Brandon Hendrix is 11-1, contributing a .400 batting average at the plate. Senior Broch Holmes is 9-1 on the mound, and hitting a team-high .545.