By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
With district play underway for all three MISD baseball programs, TSB takes a look into each program and previews the second half of the season. Can the Bulldogs stay in the top-10 in the state rankings? How will Boyd and MHS fare in the new District 10-5A playing with the expanded schedule?
Since beginning varsity athletics in 2003, the McKinney North Bulldog baseball program has a record of 191-104, one of the best marks in the state of Texas during the span. Often times you will hear people involved in the program speak about its “winning tradition,” and the 2013 Bulldog team is looking to continue that tradition, and even take it to the next level.
With a 4-0 start in District 13-4A and 14-0 overall, the Bulldogs were recently ranked as the seventh best 4A team in the state, according to the Texas H.S. Baseball Coaches Association. Despite acknowledging the state ranking, North coach Jim Gatewood veered away from getting caught up in the hype.
“We don’t get caught up with the rankings,” said Gatewood. “We are here to play and do the best we can. We work hard and have good practices to prepare us for the games.”
Top-to-bottom, the Bulldogs have one of the most talented rosters in the area, especially when it comes to the pitching staff. The two starters that take the mound every Tuesday and Friday night are Julian Pope and Gabe Constantine. Pope has pitched 20 1/3 innings this season and currently has a 0.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts, while Constantine has a 2.62 ERA in 21 1/3 innings of work.
Gatewood said he is very happy about the production from both players this season, especially in replacing the arms the team lost last season to graduation. But the most important arm in the Bulldog pitching staff might be Anthony Herrera, who has five saves and two wins this season on the hill.
While pitching and defense will continue to keep Gatewood and the Bulldogs in every game, the offense hasn’t been too shabby through the first half of the season. Currently the team has seven players hitting over a .300 batting average, including both Herrera and Pope. Justin Stevenson currently leads the team with a .459 average.
“With a lot of the team hitting well, it takes the pressure off the guys and they’re able to pick each other up,” said Gatewood.
There is no denying that the Bulldogs are in a groove at the moment, but according to their head coach, this is not the time to start being complacent.
“We can always get better,” said Gatewood.
The Bulldogs head coach contributed a lot of the early success to the returning starters from last year’s team that took the top team in the state, Frisco Wakeland, to game three of the best-of-three Bi-district round series.
“It enables us to paly at a high level,” he said.
There are still 10 district games remaining on the schedule for the Bulldogs, including two matchups with Wylie East, who is currently 4-0 in 13-4A. The first matchup between the two teams is Mar. 26 at Wylie East, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
When asked what he was most excited about heading into the final stretch of the regular season, Gatewood said he looks forward to the continued serious approach from his players.
“We will continue to work hard and be successful,” he said. “The team takes a serious approach and understands the tradition that comes with it. The team is a great group of guys that are close with one another.”
North will visit Greenville on Friday night, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
To call last season a down one for the McKinney Lions might be a bit of an understatement.
After winning District 9-4A four straight years from 2007-10 and making the postseason again in 2011, the Lions went 8-17 in 2012, including 4-10 in 10-4A. But if you think there are any effects carried over from the disappointments of last year into 2013, you would be sorely mistaken.
Coach Jeremy Price and the Lions have several new challenges to face this season, including the move into District 10-5A and replacing current University of Oklahoma player Anthony Hermelyn.
While the Lions have struggled a bit out of the gates in district play, McKinney is currently 1-2 in 10-5A and 10-6 overall heading into Friday night’s contest at Plano East. The Lions earned their first district win on Tuesday night at home versus Plano East, topping the Panthers 5-0.
Even though the Lions are playing catch-up in district play, the non-district results were very positive for Price and his players. Playing in the Argyle, Sherman, and Denison tournaments, McKinney amassed a winning record including wins over Sherman and Prosper.
Despite the non-district success, Price said the results are not a big deal at all and wanted his players to stay humble and grounded.
“Non-district helps us prepare for the season, but it is not the same intensity,” he said. “We feel good right now.”
On the mound, Price calls upon Brad Vassar for the Tuesday night games and Brett Gannaway on Friday nights. Vassar is 3-2 on the season with a 2.66 ERA, striking out 25 batters in 23 2/3 innings. Gannaway is 2-2 with a 2.24 ERA and leads the staff with 29 strikeouts.
Price spoke highly of both pitchers but said they don’t really have what other teams might call an “ace.”
“We have a talented pitching staff with kids that are better in different areas. Both Brad and Brett in the current setup is going well right now,” said Price.
Offensively, Price said his lineup battles through inconsistencies during the week, with kids getting really hot and then slumping soon after. However, both Joe Baker and Garrett Dodd are putting up tremendous numbers through the first half of the season, as both are currently standing with a .417 batting average. Dodd leads the team with nine doubles and two home runs, while Baker has 11 RBIs and team-high 12 stolen bases.
While jumping into a new district is hard enough, 10-5A is presenting a new wrinkle in its scheduling for 2013. Instead of playing a home and away game with each team in the district, all six teams will play one another three times for a total of 15 games. Not only that, but for the first five weeks of the season a team plays the same opponent on both Tuesday and Friday night. For example, the Lions defeated Plano East on Tuesday night and will play the Panthers again on Friday night at their field.
After the five weeks are over, there is one final round of games where teams alternate home and away, playing every team one more time. McKinney will finish its regular season at Boyd on Apr. 26.
Similar to his mindset about bringing up 2012, Price said he and his players are looking forward to continuing to compete and are looking forward to the challenges 10-5A presents.
“Whether you are in 4A or 5A, in order to be successful we need to play well and more consistent,” said Price.
McKinney will travel to Plano East on Friday night, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
For the first time in program history, the McKinney Boyd Broncos have a new voice in the dugout.
After six seasons at the helm for the Bronco baseball program, Brandon Milam stepped down after last season and was replaced by Brooke Court, who worked under Milam during their time at McKinney North.
Despite a 6-1 start to Court’s first season as head coach at Boyd, the Broncos have fallen onto hard time of late, losing eight of their last 10 games, including the first three contests in District 10-5A. Boyd lost 3-2 at Plano on a walk-off RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday night.
Despite the slow start in district, starting third baseman Jake Laster said he and his teammates are staying positive through the adversity, even though he acknowledges the growing pressure to start winning some games.
“It puts more pressure on us as a team, but once we get rolling we will be a better team because we will be tougher from the dealing with the adversity,” Lester said. “We will play better together.”
One of the biggest issues the Broncos have dealt with in the first half of the season is defensive mistakes, as the team has committed 35 errors and currently have a .929 fielding percentage.
At the plate, the Broncos have been hot and cold for most of the season. While the team is batting .275 as a team, Boyd is just .261 with runners in scoring position. In the loss at Plano on Tuesday night, the team left nine runners on base, including the bases loaded in the fifth inning.
“Right now we are struggling a little bit, but once we get hot we will be one of the best lineups around,” said Laster.
While the team is still tinkering with the lineup, some of the standouts in the first half have been left fielder Will Hollis, shortstop Russell Williams, and catcher Tommy Nawa. Hollis and Williams are tied for the team-lead with 11 RBIs, while Nawa leads the team with a .340 batting average and has 10 RBIs. Laster is tied with Fran DeJesus and Hollis for the team lead in homeruns with one.
On the mound, Court has a variety of arms to choose from on any given night, but Carson Chilton and Tyler Keegan are the two pitchers who have pitched the most innings this season. Chilton, a Texas Tech signee, is 1-3 with a 1.69 ERA through 20 2/3 innings, appearing in eight games as both a starter and reliever. Keegan is 2-2 with a 3.85 ERA through 23 2/3 innings, striking out 18 batters.
“They are very important because when they are one their ‘A’ games, they are some of the best pitchers in the area, “said Laster about his teammates.
Laster also mentioned Zach Hutcherson as an important piece of the pitching staff. Hutcherson, who has been hurt most of the season, is 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA through eight innings of work.
“Once he is back and rolling, he will be another top pitcher for us and be an impact starter,” Laster said.
When asked about the difference between Court and Milam, Laster said there are more similarities between the two coaches than differences, especially when it comes to coaching styles.
“They are both very intense when the games are going on and always are serious and keeping us focused,” said Laster. “This year the practices are more intense and faster paced than they were in the past. In the offseason we worked on strength more than we did in past years.”
With just 12 games left in district play, the Broncos need victories to stay in the championship race. When asked about the new 10-5A scheduling with playing every team three times, Laster loved it and said it will tell who the better team is.
“I like it a lot better because you know you’re not always going to see the same guy for the other team, so the teams with the more pitching will be more dominate,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun being able to have a series between each team because you can tell who the better team is most of the time.”
Boyd will look to be the better team Friday night as the Broncos host Plano at Bronco Field, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Colin Bado contributed to this report.