High School | Rankings | 2/4/2019

No. 1 Argyle sets eyes on prize

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Brenden Dixon (Argyle HS Baseball)

2019 Perfect Game High School Preview Index

No. 1 Argyle Eagles (Argyle, Texas)

State Association/League: Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) Class 4A Region I/District 8).
Head Coach: Ricky Griffin (13th season as head coach).
2018 Results: 37-0 overall; 10-0 4A Region II District 9 champion/UIL Class 4A state champion.

Key Departures: RHP/1B Bryson Hudgens (Angelo State); RHP/OF Parker Abrego.

Key Returners: Sr. OF/RHP Dillon Carter (Texas Tech); Sr. RHP Sean Bolin (Utah); Sr. INF Brenden Dixon (Texas); Sr. C/INF Austin King (UT Rio Grande Valley); Sr. INF Preston King (UT Rio Grande Valley); Sr. INF/RHP Chad Ricker (UT San Antonio); Sr. OF/LHP Hayden Clearman (Abilene Christian); Jr. OF/LHP Alex Gonzales (Baylor); Jr. INF/RHP Cade Merka (Texas A&M); Jr. C/INF Bo Hogeboom (Houston); Jr. RHP Tate Van Poppel.

Notable Matchups: Feb. 21-23 vs. Border Olympics Laredo; Feb. 28-March 2 vs. Collin County Tournament; March 29-April 26 vs. 4A Region I/District 8.

… … …

Bring it on. How about a second straight Perfect Game High School National Championship? Well, only time will tell.

The Argyle (Texas) Eagles ran the table during their historic 37-game march to the Texas UIL Class 4A state championship in 2018, the school’s second 4A state title in four years. And as a crowning achievement, once the final votes were tallied, Argyle also emerged as the 2018 PGHS National Champion.

Today, the veteran team that finished No. 1 a season ago debuts at No. 1 in the 2019 PGHS Preseason National Top 50 Rankings. Start planning the parades.

“They’re pretty relaxed,” head coach Ricky Griffin told PG over the phone last week when asked about his team’s mindset heading into the campaign. “They’re not over-confident and the undefeated stuff is not even ever in the conversation. But to win another state  championship, they’re smart enough to understand that we’re going to have to play as well or better than we did last year.

“To win a state championship a lot of things have to fall your way,” he added. “We realize that, but we also want to put ourselves in the right spot and give ourselves the best opportunity to do it again.”

Perfect Game ranks all of the Eagles’ top returning players (see above) as top-500 national prospects in the classes of 2019 and 2020; most are in the top-200 in the state of Texas.

The list is led by senior outfielder/right-hander and Texas Tech signee Dillon Carter at No. 285 (No. 28, Texas) and top-500 senior infielder Brenden Dixon (No. 57, Texas); identical twins Austin King and Preston King – both Texas Rio Grande Valley signees – are top-500s nationally that are ranked Nos. 110 and 111, respectively, in Texas.

Other top-500s include seniors Sean Bolin (Utah signee) and Hayden Clearman (Abilene Christian), and juniors Alex Gonzales (Baylor commit), Cade Merka (Texas A&M) and Bo Hogeboom; top-500 junior right-hander Tate Van Poppel is the son of former big-league right-hander Todd Van Poppel.

Those rankings and the college signings/commitments indicate that these guys are obviously talented baseball players, but they’re not one-dimensional. Griffin said he isn’t able to do much with his team in the fall because right around 85 percent of his roster plays football for an Argyle program that annually challenges for state championships.

Argyle, Texas, is a suburb of Fort Worth and Griffin calls Argyle HS “an amazing school” regardless of pursuit, be it academics, athletics or fine arts. Students at the school have won UIL State Academic Meet Championships 16 straight years in either classes 3A or 4A, and in athletic it has been the UIL Lone Star Cup State Champions six times since 2012 (the Lone Star Cup is an all-sports award).

As the wins began to pile up for the baseball team last season, there was never really a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Keeping the undefeated season in tact was always on the players’ and coaches’ minds, Griffin said, mostly because members of the local media brought it up regularly.

So, when he first brought his team together for a meeting this winter, Griffin said the undefeated state and national championship season of 2018 was hardly mentioned. No one saw the need.

“I talked to them and said to them that pretty much everybody is back and you knew what it took last year, so I don’t need to give you any long speeches about what we need to do this year, ” Griffin told PG. “I said let’s just go to work, and so far they have.”

Since there weren’t many seniors on last year’s team, the juniors took it upon themselves to assume a lot of the leadership roles. Now that those same players are seniors, they’re willing to share in the leadership duties without a single guy really standing out above the others.

All of these key senior have been playing varsity since they were sophomores and most of them have played summer travel ball together with the Dallas Tigers organization for the last three or four years.

“That’s a real strength of this team,” Griffin said of their togetherness. “They can still argue like brothers, but they definitely know each other. There’s a competition between each of them to out-do the other but there’s also – especially when they come and start playing for the high school team – definitely a team atmosphere and cheering for the other guy and just making sure the team is first.”

But there’s more. When asked if he could point to one aspect involved with actually the playing the game that could be described as a strength, Griffin hesitated briefly, acknowledged that it was “a good question” and then proceeded:

“We have a guy at every position defensively that is probably as good as I’ve coached in my 12 years here,” he said. “So I’d say the overall talent as a whole is probably a strength.”

With so many of his players having already made their college commitments, it wouldn’t be that much of a reach to assume Griffin runs his program much the same way a college program is run. In fact, he tries to take it another direction.

This is still high school baseball, after all, and while there are goals to be reached and championships to be won, the top priority is for the kids to have fun. The memories produced by these seasons in the sun should be joyous ones and not diminished because the players were bridled too tightly. That’s not to assume playing college baseball is all work and no fun, but Griffin wants to error on the side of fun.

The Eagles’ practice schedule is very regimented and the seniors are going through it for the fourth year this spring; they know exactly what’s coming next and what’s expected of them. Griffin doesn’t consider his practices to be intense, and even if they are, these guys – especially the football players – can handle it. So, they might as well enjoy it, too.

“I’m real big on us getting our work in every day in practice, and it’s OK if they have fun while doing that; in fact I encourage it,” he said. “If somebody says something that makes people laugh, that’s awesome too, as long as it’s not a detriment to what we’re trying to get done.”

Everything being equal and with every expectation taken into account, the goal – the spoken goal – is to win a second straight Texas UIL Class 4A state championship.

“Without a doubt,” Griffin said. “It’s going to be a disappointment (if that isn’t accomplished) and I want it to be. We also know how hard it is to do it again – so many things have to go your way. We’re realistic about it, but we don’t have another goal other than winning a state championship.”

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