Baseball season is nearly upon us with teams across the state hitting the diamond for the first practice on Jan. 31 to start another pursuit of the ultimate prize, a state championship.
In Sealy, Dane Bennett is entering his third year at the helm of the Tigers and after going two and three rounds deep in the playoffs his first two years as skipper, the expectations are similarly set on progression.
“First year we were here, we went two rounds deep. Last year, we went three rounds deep. This year, we expect to go four rounds or more,” Bennett said in between basketball games last Friday night. “Our expectations don't change. Personnel changes, but as long as our foundation stays the same and we work our butts off, expectations never should change.”
He will certainly be submitting a lineup card with different names on it this year after graduating top-of-the-line starting pitchers in Garret Zaskoda (Rice University) and Hunter Kelley (Pratt Community College), but those new names may not be so far off from their predecessors.
“Based on what we had last year, we believe it's going to be Carter Cryan and Rhys Reichardt,” Bennett said of the pitching situation. “We're hoping that those two lefties step up more than they did last year, that would be big for us. Another name to look for pitching-wise will be Garret’s brother, Blake Zaskoda.”
Last year, Cryan logged 25 innings on the mound and walked away with a 3-0 record where he allowed 19 hits and 15 runs, seven of them earned, walked 15 and struck out 26 with an ERA (earned run average) of 1.96 and a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of 1.36.
Reichardt, on the other hand, appeared in 10 games and compiled a 6-2 record and added a save in his only opportunity. He racked up 37.2 innings pitched and surrendered 44 hits and 15 runs, 12 of which were earned, but walked only nine batters while striking out 31 of them, registering an ERA of 2.23 and a WHIP of 1.41.
The batting lineup will be receiving a much-needed returner in third baseman Garrett Redden who missed the latter parts of last season with a wrist injury. Still, he logged 50 at-bats over 64 plate appearances in 19 games, building a batting average of .420 with 12 singles, five doubles, three triples and a home run, driving in 13 runs.
“Hitting-wise, we have Garrett Redden coming back,” Bennett said. “That's the biggest name we have coming back for us that will help our program the most because if we had him last year for the playoffs, he's a game-changer with his stick, (so who knows what could have happened). Joseph Teague, I think, is going to have a big year this year, he'll be a two-year varsity guy for us.”
However, the one question mark in the lineup card remains the other part of the pitching-catching battery, with Arturo Hernandez receiving his diploma at the end of last year and vacating that spot.
“The question for us will be at catcher,” Bennett said. “(Arturo) was a three-year starting catcher so that's the big one that we’ve got to replace this year that we're not exactly sure who that guy's gonna be.”
Luckily, there’s still plenty of time before the first scrimmage, Feb. 14 at Sweeny, and before the first regular-season game, Feb. 21 at Kinkaid, for Bennett and the rest of the staff to come up with that answer.
Until then, he’ll rely on the foundation they have built up over their tenure and will look for that to carry them through this first stretch.
“I think that is more based on the foundations of your program,” Bennett said of replicating the postseason results already seen. “I think the seniors over the last few years have really set that base for what that foundation is supposed to be. So, as a coaching staff, we just come in and they know our expectations and we're not going to lower to those expectations.”