From new districts to new head coaches, the end of some rivalries and the formation of new ones, the 2013 high school baseball season is chock full of interesting storylines.
Some teams have already stepped between the lines, eyes filled with championship dreams that come with the start of each new spring.
The Avalanche-Journal, in a two-part series, takes a look at where each of its 11 city teams stand heading into what should mark another exciting campaign on the South Plains.
2012 finish: First in District 2-5A; lost in regional quarterfinals.
The Mustangs know all about expectations.
A program that is two seasons removed from a trip to the state championship game knows a thing or two about what it takes to win. But Coronado coach Gary Hix said he also wants to make sure his guys remember why they took up America’s pastime in the first place.
“It’s supposed to be fun,” said Hix, who begins his third season as the team’s skipper. “It’s not supposed to be drudgery. It goes back to when they were young. They’re trying to live up to the expectations everyone has for them, but the greatest expectations are the ones they have for themselves.”
Coronado will rely on a pair of proven arms at the front of its rotation in Tyler Thorne and Taylor Bridges, two Division I-bound players who are signed with Stanford and Texas Tech, respectively. The Mustangs will also benefit from the return of Zane Ancell and Keaton Carson, players who missed almost all of last season due to injury.
Coronado is now the only Class 5A team in Lubbock, with Monterey and Lubbock High
having dropped down to 4A. Playing competition from Abilene, Odessa, Amarillo, Midland and San Angelo should give the Mustangs plenty of challenge as the season goes on.
"Whoever is going to come out of this district is going to have earned it," Hix said.
2012 finish: First in District 2-3A; lost in regional semifinals.
The Pirates advanced further than any team on the South Plains last season, finishing a few plays shy of a trip to the regional final and a potential berth in the state tournament.
Cooper tore through District 2-3A, finishing a perfect 10-0 behind a pair of talented arms in Nolan Savage and Scotland Church and the power bats of 2012 A-J Player of the Year Hunter Spear and first-team all-city selection Adam Taylor.
Three of those players — Savage, Spear and Taylor — moved on to the college ranks, but a combination of experienced returners and talented newcomers should be able to carry the torch for what has been one of the most successful programs in West Texas during Terry Baxter’s 15 seasons as coach, during which he has compiled a 389-128 record.
If Church can continue to star on the mound like he did last season, when he surrendered a mere seven earned runs in 54 innings (0.91 ERA), the Pirates will be in good shape at the front end of the rotation. He also hit .445 with five home runs and 32 RBIs and will be the team’s leadoff option.
In addition to Church, Cooper also returns potential all-state players in Chandler Patterson and Ryan Moseley, an all-city catcher last season who has signed a letter of intent to play his college baseball at Texas Tech.
Emerging unscathed through district play will be a much tougher task this season, as Andrews and Seminole join Cooper, Estacado, Levelland and Shallowater to form what may be one of the toughest Class 3A districts in the state.
2012 finish: Second in District 2-3A; lost in regional quarterfinals.
Speed on the base paths and in the field has long been a trademark for Estacado, and coach Mark Llanas believes that could be especially true of his team this season.
“This year we bring even more speed to the table on defense and in the outfield, even on the corners,” Llanas said. “The overall team speed is better.”
That could be a scary thought for opponents who often last season struggled to limit the Matadors’ hit-and-run success.
At the crux of the approach are middle infielders Quentin Johnson and Matthew Flores, who were both all-state selections last season while leading the Matadors to the regional quarterfinals.
Estacado brings almost everyone else back from a team that got better and better as the season went on last year. One major loss, though, will be catcher Victor Gomez, who was not only a brick wall behind the plate and perhaps the team’s best power hitter, but was also the unquestioned leader of the club.
Llanas has faith that Michael Garza, Gomez’s backup last year, will step up and perform well, but he concedes filling in those shoes will be no easy task.
“I hate to say it, but it’s hard to replace that kind of leadership,” Llanas said. “It will be a team effort.”
■ Trinity Christian
2012 finish: Fifth in TAPPS District 1-4A; missed playoffs.
Devin Rocha knew growing pains would be a part of the process last season for a team that was heavy on underclassmen and short on experience.
After winning just one district game in 2012, the Trinity Christian coach believes his team has a better understanding of what it takes to compete at a high level.
“I think experience is definitely going to be the big thing,” Rocha said. “Any time you play against level of players we play against in Dallas, it’s tough when you lack that.”
One whom now veteran player Rocha will lean heavily on is junior catcher Kale Wilsford, a first-team all-South Plains selection in 2012 after hitting .418 with 23 RBIs. Pitcher/infielders Matt Havens and Kent Zamora, all-district selections last season, also return.
Rocha said he has been impressed by freshman Storm Driggers, who pitched two scoreless innings of relief in Trinity Christian’s win against Roosevelt on Tuesday.
“I can tell that he’s going to do good things for us,” Rocha said.
The coach has also lauded the improvement of Alex Fulton, who got brief experience with the varsity last season and will move into a more substantial role this year.
■ Lubbock Christian
2012 finish: Second in TAPPS District 1-3A; lost in bi-district playoff.
Coach Stephen Watkins has delivered a simple message to his Lubbock Christian High team as it wades into a new season with a number of talented returners.
“Playing ahead of the game instead of waiting to get it to you,” Watkins said, “that’s what we’ve been harping on.”
The Eagles were more like the Baby Birds last season, a team comprised of mostly freshman and sophomores. LCHS is still young, but Watkins believes another year of experience will go a long way.
“I think we’re better than we were at this point last year,” he said. “Being a year older with that experience helps. We’re still a long way from where we need to be, but we’re getting there.”
Shortstop/pitcher Ricky Contreras, a second-team all-city selection last year, anchors a group of talented returners. Contreras hit .407 and drove in 40 runs last season. This year he could be used on the mound more after seeing it little as a sophomore while dealing the affects of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a condition that can cause clotting.
Contreras underwent surgery at the end of last season to have a rib removed, a procedure designed to relieve pressure on a compressed vein. Watkins said Contreras has bounced back well from the operation, but he doesn’t want to push him too hard on the mound in the early going.
“He’s built up to throw a good 80 pitches,” Watkins said, “but I’d rather have him give me 80 pitches in May. A lot of that will be on him. He has a good idea of what’s right and wrong (in his arm).”
■ New Deal
2012: First in District 4-1A; lost in regional quarterfinals.
Like many small-town baseball coaches, David Turner doesn’t usually have his full complement of players when high school baseball practice begins.
A number of them are finishing up their duties on the basketball court, but that doesn’t bother Turner.
“We want to be successful in everything we do,” Turner said, “We feel like if football is successful, that will carry over to basketball. If basketball is successful, that will carry over to baseball. That’s kind of the way it’s been around here.”
Success has been commonplace during Turner’s tenure, and he returns a group in 2013 that could make a run at the state tournament. Top pitcher Corie Ramirez has graduated, but the Lions may have more depth in the rotation.
“We’ll be all right on the mound,” Turner said.
As much as anything, the coach believes he has enough experienced players, including returners Kyler Bean, Abraham Villarreal, Mickey Dehn and Andrew Mares, who know what it takes to win. “We talked about success and what’s expected of you,” Turner said. “It’s up to us to carry on that tradition.”
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