By Angel Verdejo
The Cove Herald
The Bulldawgs graduated a pair of college-bound talents in Cody Brannon (Temple College) and Billy Mee (Cisco Junior Collge), but there's still some talent on the roster to make a push for one of the four District 12-5A playoffs spots. Here's a look at what area teams bring to the diamond this season.
Last season: 34-8, 13-1 in 12-5A (regional semifinalist)
Key losses: SP/3B Dillon Newman, SS Shane Hoelscher
Key players: C Colbi Fuentes (Sr.), P Tyler Vail (Sr.)
Outlook: The Tigers lost the two best players in the area in ace pitcher Newman and hard-hitting shortstop Hoelscher and a total of 13 seniors overall, but don't expect Belton to have a down year. The team returns a host of talent, including all-district players Fuentes, a catcher, and Vail, who will consist of the team's battery this season. Also leading the hitting attack will be third baseman Brooks Mraz.
Last season: 12-18, 3-11 in 12-5A
Key losses: P/OF Cody Brannon, 3B Billy Mee
Key players: OF Austin Greene (Jr.), 3B Chris Burroughs (Sr.)
Outlook: The Bulldawgs lost a pair of college-bound standouts in Brannon and Mee, but should still have talent to contend in the district. Greene was a second-team all-district selection last year and has made a few plays in the outfield that have already turned heads in scrimmages. He's 100 percent after an injury cost him nearly all of football season - Greene is now baseball only. He, along with Burroughs and Ty Johnson will handle most of the pitching duties.
Last season: 19-12-1, 8-6 in 12-5A (area finalist)
Key losses: P/SS Ryan Bates, P Cal Somerville
Key players: C Justin Dingman (Sr.), OF/IF KJ Stark (Sr.), SS Greg Green (Sr.)
Outlook: Led by senior starters Bates and Somerville, the Eagles earned their first postseason berth since 2006 - the first season under coach Craig Martin - before being swept by Richardson Lake Highlands in the area round. But Martin left for his alma mater Temple, leaving an even deeper senior class led by Dingman, Green and Stark in the hands of longtime assistant Kyle Allred. Without any legitimate ace-candidates, the Eagles are changing to more of pitcher-by-committee approach, while becoming more of a small-ball team with a focus on bunting and team speed.
Last season: 17-15-1, 7-7 in 12-5A (area finalist)
Key losses: P/OF Sean Hansen, 1B/3B Jose Torres
Key players: P/DH Irvin Santamaria (Sr.), P/3B Bryce Davis (Sr.)
Outlook: With an incredible turnaround in the second half of district, the Knights won six of seven games and advanced to the area round of the playoffs before losing to Tyler Lee. Despite losses of Hansen and Torres, Heights returns a solid foundation centered around Santamaria, a two-way threat as leadoff hitter (.441, 5 HRs) and ace (3.04 ERA) for the Knights. Coach Glenn Cunningham will depend more heavily on Davis to fill the No. 2 hole left by Hansen.
Last season: 4-22, 0-14 in 12-5A
Key players: 2B Matt Reed (Sr.), SS/P A.J. Gongora (Sr.)
Outlook: The Grey Wolves had a lot of inexperience last year in a very tough district. This year, that inexperience is more grown up, but the district hasn't gotten a lot easier. Still, behind Reed - the Grey Wolves leading hitter last season - and Gongora, Shoemaker looks to improve on last year's winless district season.