Spring Hill’s baseball program nearly advanced to the Class 4A Region II semifinal in 2021, so its returning players used the disappointment of falling short last year as motivation to reach the stage this spring.

The Panthers were only a win away from the regional semifinal after an 8-0 win over Pleasant Grove in the 2021 regional quarterfinal opener. But, the opportunity slipped away with a game two and game three double-header sweep two days later.

“They told me after that day it wouldn’t happen again,” Spring Hill head baseball coach Trevor Petersen said of his team’s determination after the final two playoff losses last season.

The players kept their word because Spring Hill topped last year’s regional quarterfinal finish with this season’s regional semifinal advancement. The Panthers also extended their 2022 playoff record to 6-0 after last Wednesday’s 11-0 regional quarterfinal game one win and last Thursday’s 7-1 series-advancing game two victory.

Now, Spring Hill is preparing for this week’s best-of-three fourth round playoff series against 25-7 Melissa. The Panthers and Cardinals will meet during Thursday’s 7 p.m. game one at Winnsboro High School and Friday’s 7 p.m. game two at Crandall High School. If a game three is forced, the teams would return to Winnsboro High at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“I can’t be more proud of my boys,” Petersen said of his team reaching its season-long goal. “Going into Melissa, I feel really excited and comfortable with our attitude, and our effort’s going to be there.”

As powerful as motivation can be, Spring Hill also had to find ways to execute on the diamond to advance to its first regional semifinal since 2019. The Panthers have leaned on a balanced attack to produce enough success for a 30-3 season record.

On one front, Spring Hill’s pitchers have limited the production of other teams’ lineups throughout the season. That is evident because Easton Ballard enters the week with a 13-0 season record, a 0.79 ERA, 116 strikeouts and 17 walks in 79.1 innings on the mound, and Conner Smeltzer owns an 11-1 record, a 0.75 ERA, 89 strikeouts and 28 walks in 65.1 innings pitched. Both pitchers also hold a perfect 3-0 postseason record in 2022, and have combined for 35 strikeouts and 16 walks in 32.2 combined innings.

Additionally, the team’s pitching staff has important depth in the form of Brennan Ferguson and Austin Bonner, who currently hold respective season-long records of 3-1 and 2-0.

“A reason why we’ve made it this far is our pitching has been tremendous this year,” said Petersen. “Our pitching staff has thrown strikes, and mixed off-speed in there.”

The offense has also been active this season. To start, it’s been an aggressive group. Marshall Lipsey leads the group with 27 stolen bases, while Jax Stovall and Emory Allen follow with 17 and 12 respectively.

Spring Hill’s bats have also collided with the necessary balls to produce enough runs. Josiah Mackey leads the team with 36 RBIs, and Ballard and Lipsey are right behind with 30 each. Jordan Hodges has produced 17, Ferguson and Stovall have recorded 14, and Ben Puckett currently has 12.

The hitting and RBI trends have also continued in the postseason. Ballard enters this week with an impressive .438 playoff batting average, and Mackey owns a notable .412 average, while Hodges and Puckett hold respective .375 and .286 marks.

Ballard and Mackey have also produced seven RBIs, Hodges has earned six RBIs, and Lipsey and Puckett have recorded five and four RBIs respectively.

“One through nine in the lineup, we’re not afraid to hit the fastball,” said Petersen. “We have a great approach right now.”

NOTES: Both teams are perfect in the postseason heading into this weekend’s matchup. Spring Hill got past Pittsburg (7-3, 4-1), Farmersville (7-1, 8-3) and Kilgore (11-0, 7-1), while Melissa advanced past Ferris (9-4, 6-3), Hillsboro (8-3) and Kennedale (5-0, 8-5).

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Howdy y'all! I'm the Longview News-Journal's multimedia sports reporter. I have deep East Texas roots and love covering the region's stories and games. I graduated from UT, and have covered sports in different parts of Texas throughout my career.