By Bill McCaughey
For The Fort Bend Star
District 20-6A is loaded with baseball talent this spring. In one pre-season poll, Travis was first, Kempner third and Clements 17th.
Throw in Austin, which is currently 12-4 this season, and you have the makings of a powerhouse district.
Returning district champion Travis is 13-3 this season, 2-0 in district play and has a big target on their backs.
“This season is going to be a challenge,” Travis coach Rodney Hernandez said. “Not only is everyone gunning for us, we have our own high expectations. I think we are up for the challenge, but we have to prove it out on the dirt.”
Hernandez, who has about 66 players in the Travis baseball program, is the team’s batting practice pitcher and estimates he throws about 1,000 pitches each day during baseball season.
“I worry every time I feel a twinge in my shoulder that I won’t be able to keep pitching batting practice,” Hernandez said.
The Travis ballpark is a pitcher’s ballpark with the wind always blowing in, which can be a problem in a district full of elite pitchers.
“Our district has a bunch of stud pitchers,” shortstop Brandon Pruitt said. “Every game we have to prepare as if we are playing the best team in the state.”
Pruitt is Travis’ leadoff hitter.
“My job is to get on base and then get to second base,” Pruitt said. “I have the green light to steal but I need to be smart about it. We have a lot of great hitters and I don’t want to take the bat out of their hands.”
Outfielder Cole Turney is one of those great hitters. Last year Turney hit .353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in.
“I just try to be the best hitter I can be, and get quality at bats,” Turney said. “I have to be patient. This spring the pitchers have been going away from me and I have made a few outs chasing them. I need to wait for my pitch.”
Turney has committed to Arkansas for next year.
“I have been playing baseball with these guys (my teammates) since little league,” Turney said. “In a way, it’s kind of sad that this is our last season playing together.”
First baseman Wesley Faison will be playing baseball at Texas State University next year.
“San Marcos is an awesome place and I really liked the coaching staff,” Faison said.
Faison is a fastball hitter.
“I like getting a fastball but I have to adjust to every pitch,” he said.
Despite the tough district, Travis is quietly confident about the season.
“We just need to take care of business this season,” Turney said.
Kempner looks to improve on last years’ 24-7-2 record.
“We got a lot of experience last year with young players,” Kempner coach Marc Jones said. “Every night is tough in our district. I scheduled a very tough pre-district schedule so we can be ready when district play starts. Right now our biggest strength is our pitching. I think we have four pitchers who will pitch at the Division 1 level after they graduate. This is probably the deepest staff I have had in 18 years of coaching.”
Heading up the pitching staff is Simeon Wood-Richardson, who is committed to the University of Texas. Last year, he was the district co-MVP with a record of 7-1, 102 strikeouts and an earned run average of 0.33.
Noah Huerta is a left-handed pitcher with plenty of movement on his fastball but likes to throw his curve.
“I think my best pitch is my curve ball,” Huerta said. “I am also working on a cutter this year.” Last year, Huerta was 6-1 with a 1.80 earned run average.
Blake Takushi plays first base and pitches. He is returning from Tommy John surgery.
“I have been playing baseball year-round and too much throwing caught up with me,” Takushi said. “My rehab took a year. At first I couldn’t even straighten out my arm and now I do a lot of stretching every day before I throw. We have a strong pitching staff this year and we are looking to go deep in the playoffs.”
Alec Carr is the shortstop and is used as a closer. Carr hit .364 last year with three home runs and 36 RBI’s, and made the all-district first team. Carr likes playing at the Kempner ballpark.
“The wind is always blowing out here,” Carr said.
Carr has committed to the University of Texas.
“I really liked the coach and they made me feel like family. I want to help turn that program around,” Carr said.
Jared Veasey is the strong-armed catcher who handles this high-powered pitching staff.
“Our strength is definitely our pitching staff,” Veasey said. “We know that even if our hitting shut down, we will always be in the game.
Jeremiah McCollum, an all-district first team outfielder, has earned a base-stealing green light with his speed and baseball savvy.
“We can hit home runs,” McCollum said. “And we have the speed to play for a run.”
Blake Ehlinger is the leadoff man and second baseman. Last year he scored 16 runs as he set the table for the big hitters coming up behind him. Ehlinger and Carr are a formidable double play combination.
“We have been playing together for a few years now,” Ehlinger said. “Each day we get a lot of reps on double play situations.
Because our district is so tough, we to do things right fundamentally or we will lose,” coach Jones said. “We have kids that can hit home runs, but we will play for a single run. We try to get runners in scoring position. We shoot for seven runs a game. If we can get seven runs, we feel we have a good chance to win.”
Clements is off to a rough start this pre-district season. They are currently 4-5-1 and 0-2 in the district, after finishing last season at 17-14 and 10-6 in the district. They will rely on pitcher Jack Conlon, an all-district second team selection, to improve their district record.
Austin has started fast with a 12-4 record. They will be counting on all-district first team pitcher Connor Lepoer to take them to the playoffs.
Baseball fans should mark April 4 on their calendars, as Kempner plays at Travis at 7 p.m.