WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - The Iowa Park Hawks are in the Region I-4A Quarterfinals this week, but they wouldn't be there without a clutch effort from an unsung member of their pitching staff.
"I told my dad before the game, there was no other time I'd rather be on the mound," said Braxton Briones.
The junior had been Iowa Park's third starter this season, seeing most of his action in tournament play. He hadn't pitched in over two weeks when he was called upon to start the winner-take-all Game 3 Saturday night in Abilene against Stephenville.
"Just got to go out there, fearless," Briones said of his attitude entering the game. "You can't be over-thinking stuff; you've just got to trust your defense and your offense and know that they're going to put the ball in play, and then we're going to field it."
"I knew the very first hitter when he threw his curveball and his changeup, and they were both filthy," said head coach Michael Swenson. "So I knew that it was going to be a good night for him."
"Braxton's a great pitcher," said senior Derek Hostas. "And all of us trust him to throw that potential Game 3, and the crucial Game 3."
Briones was pitching because Stephenville did what few teams all season had been able to do: get to Hostas. The Hawks' ace came in having allowed just one earned run in 41 innings this season, but the Yellowjackets blitzed him for four runs in the first, though only two were earned.
"Man, they started wearing the chalk line out," coach Swenson said. "They hit a couple doubles that just landed right on the chalk line, then we had an error that led to two additional runs, but outside of that, that was it. We kinda settled in, and had some opportunities to come back."
"Coming out after an inning like that, you've really just got to bear down and focus," Hostas said. "Make sure you keep hitting your spots, and trust your defense behind you, and that's all you can do."
Hostas settling down after that first inning meant Iowa Park could save Briones for Game 3, and the rest was history. Briones threw a two-hit shutout and the Hawks are moving on to face #6 Abilene Wylie.
"We've played them every year the past four years, and this will be the fourth year, and it would just be good to beat them," Hostas said. Meetings in 2016 and 2017 came in the regular season, while Wylie swept a playoff series in 2015.
"I think the key to the series is the team that doesn't give up the big inning," Swenson said. "Now when I say, 'big inning,' I'm saying 2, 3 runs. And the team that doesn't do that, is usually the team that's going to come away victorious."
For the Hawks, it will just come down to the little things.
"Our motto is 'DSB: Do Small Better,'" Briones said. "And if we stick with that, I don't think there's a team that can compete with us."
Iowa Park hosts game one against Wylie Friday night at 7 p.m. at Hawk Field. Admission is free and they're looking to pack the house with a "green-out"!
The series resumes Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Wylie.