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The path to the Elite 8

A look back at the Diamondbacks’ season

For the second time in four years, the Pioneer Diamondbacks baseball team finds itself in elite company; the state’s Elite 8. That means that of the 128 5A teams across the Lone Star State that earned the opportunity to punch their tickets into the UIL State Playoffs, only eight remain. How did they accomplish this? That is what we’re going to look at here; the path the Diamondbacks have taken over the past three-plus months, beginning with non-district games and tournament play all the way through last week’s Regional Semifinals.

Pioneer opened its 2021/2022 campaign with high expectations. And while expectations aren’t always met, the Diamondbacks’ season opener against the La Joya Coyotes, proved to be the first sign that in their case, they would be. Not so much because the Diamondbacks won that game, but because they defeated a 6A team that would eventually be the next to the last Valley team left standing in 2022, even though nobody knew that at the time.

Next up for the Diamondbacks would be the Bowie (Austin) Bulldogs and the Coronado (Lubbock) Mustangs in the Pflugerville Tournament, followed by another non-district matchup against the Harlingen Cardinals. Pioneer fell to Bowie (14-6), but bounced back to defeat Coronado (11-6) and Harlingen High (15-5).

Photo by Jason Breeden.

Pioneer’s next 11 games would all be in tournament play. This included the Calallen ISD Tournament in which the Diamondbacks lost to Gregory Portland (7-4) to open the tournament and to Bishop (10-5) to close it, but emerged victorious against Robstown (6-0), Rockport-Fulton (15-4) and Corpus Christi London (6-2) in between. The Diamondbacks then moved on to the South Texas Showdown Tournament in which they defeated Harlingen South (9-1), Brownsville Rivera (10-0), Edcouch Elsa (7-4), CC Veterans Memorial (7-1) and CC Moody (9-0) but fell to Brownsville Veterans Memorial (8-6).

This gave the Diamondbacks an 11-4 record as they headed into District 31-5A play.

While you always want to win as many non-district and tournament games as you can, those wins do nothing for you in the district standings or when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs. That is why most coaches would gladly trade in all their preseason wins for one district win. Fortunately for Pioneer head baseball Coach Casey Smith, and interim head coach Shawn “Shack” Moes, they did not need to worry about trading for any wins. That’s because the Diamondbacks went out and earned their wins the old fashioned way.

Pioneer’s winning ways included a seven game winning streak to open their district schedule. First up was PSJA Southwest who the Diamondbacks defeated 11-1 and 10-0 in both teams’ district opening series. Pioneer then took two from the McAllen Bulldogs by scores of 5-1 and 15-10 and two from the Valley View Tigers. The score of the first game against Valley View was not reported but the score of the second game was 13-5.

Heading into their next two game series against the Nikki Rowe Warriors, both teams were 6-0. Knowing that these two games could very well determine the eventual district champions, Pioneer was dealing with an off-the-field matter that could’ve proven to be disastrous; the suspension of Coach Smith and the naming of Moes as the interim head coach. Due to privacy considerations, Sharyland ISD did not release the reason, or reasons these actions were taken, but the fact of the matter is having your head coach placed on administrative leave in the middle of a season, and just prior to your two biggest games of the season, is something that most teams would find it difficult to recover from.

Despite the fact that the timing could not have been worse, the Diamondbacks made the best of a difficult situation and split the two game series with the Warriors by winning the first game 6-5 and losing the second game 5-3. This left both teams with identical 7-1 records with six games left to play.

Progress Times photo by Jason Breeden.

As it turns out, neither the Diamondbacks nor the Warriors stumbled the rest of the way as Pioneer took two games each from Sharyland High (15-4 and 6-4), PSJA Memorial (5-3 and 11-1) and McAllen Memorial (3-2 and 13-3). This resulted in a co-district championship for Pioneer and Rowe with identical 31-5A records of 13-1.

With the regular season over and the Bi-district round of the playoffs just one week away, all that was left to determine was whether the Diamondbacks or the Warriors would be the district’s top seed. That was settled with a head-to-head play-in game which Pioneer won in five innings by a score of 10-0.

Heading into the playoffs with an overall record of 25-5, and with Moes still at the helm, the Diamondbacks, and their senior-heavy roster, prepared to take on all post-season comers. First up in the Bi-district round were the Brownsville Porter Cowboys who the Diamondbacks made short work out of with 13-0 and 10-0 wins to take the best-of-three series 2-0.

Next up for the Diamondbacks was Corpus Christi Moody in the Area round and in another best-of-three series. Pioneer took Game 1 by a score of 7-4, lost Game 2 by a score of 5-2 but bounced back to take Game 3, and the series, by a score of 10-4.

Little did anybody know at the time that the Diamondbacks had just set a precedent that they would be repeating at least twice; winning the first game of a best-of-three series, losing the second game and winning the third. That is exactly what they did against CC Veterans Memorial in the Regional Quarterfinal round and Buda Johnson in the Regional Semifinal round.

Against Buda Johnson, the Diamondbacks let a two game sweep slip from their grasp as they had a 4-2 lead with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 2 but allowed the Jaguars to score three runs for a walk-off 5-4 win that tied the series at 1-1. Then in Game 3, the Diamondbacks were down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning but a three run rally put Pioneer ahead to stay and gave them yet another 2-1 series win.

That brings us to this weekend’s Regional Final series against the Georgetown Eagles, the same Eagles team that ended the Diamondbacks’ historic 2019 playoff run in the state tournament semifinals. Game 1 of that series was played last night. Game 2 is scheduled for first pitch tonight at 7 p.m. and Game 3 (if necessary) is scheduled for first pitch tomorrow at 1 p.m., both at Jourdanton High School.

The Diamondbacks have come a long way since their season opener against the Coyotes and they’ve overcome much adversity. However, all it’ll take is four more wins for their 2022 season to be remembered for just one thing, a state championship.

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