Rarely, if ever, is a first baseman also a team’s leadoff hitter.
But when asked to move from the middle of the lineup to the top midseason, Harker Heights senior Robby Sluss made his new role seem almost natural.
“Usually the guys that sit on the corners are your power-type — your RBI guys — so you’d think he’d be a 3-, 4- or maybe a 5-hole hitter,” Harker Heights head baseball coach Glenn Cunningham said. “So obviously (Sluss) had to learn how to take pitches and work the count a little bit deeper, and those were things we talked to him about and he adjusted really well.”
Sluss was rewarded for his unselfishness at the plate Friday when he was named to the Collin Street Bakery/Texas Sports Writer’s Association’s Class 5A All-State baseball team as an honorable mention.
To Cunningham’s knowledge, Sluss is the first Harker Heights player under his tenure (since 2005) to be named to an all-state list.
“I think we had some pretty good players that were nominated, but I can’t recall one being on the all-state list,” he said. “He’s got a tremendous work ethic and the hard work paid off for him. ... I’m just glad that somebody noticed the year.
“This is a big state — Texas is a huge state — and ... to even be included as an honorable mention, because of the number of players in this state, says a lot about the year and the accomplishments that he had.”
Sluss responded to the move, ultimately earning first-team All-District 8-5A and Daily Herald All-Area honors after leading the Knights with a .432 batting average, five triples, 19 RBIs, 31 runs scored and a 1.194 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
“He really had a great year offensively for us and without him, there’s no telling where we’d have been,” Cunningham said. “He carried us most of the year.”
Batting over .400 throughout the season, Cunningham decided to move Sluss into the leadoff hole around the start of the second half of district play after watching the rest of his lineup struggle to get on base with any consistency.
“We just wanted to get him to the plate as many times as we could in a game,” Cunningham said. “We just felt like we had other guys that could work in the middle of the lineup and, really, he’s an RBI guy and probably should have been down in the middle of the order, but we didn’t really have that true leadoff guy that could carry us.”
And although not the prototypical leadoff hitter with blazing speed and a slap-hitting approach, Sluss ultimately became that guy for Harker Heights, helping lead the Knights back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, where they fell to Mansfield in a best-of-three bi-district series.
“Robby was a team player and whatever we asked him to do, whatever role we were asking him to play, he was willing to do that,” Cunningham said. “We’re awful proud of him and he’s very deserving of the award, in that it was a different kind of season for him.”
Collin Street Bakery/TSWA Class 5A All-State Team
Pitchers — Ryan Burnett, Conroe The Woodlands, sr.; Dakota Mills, Fort Bend Dulles, sr.; Tyler Alexander, Southlake Carroll, sr.
Catcher — Cameron Miller, Houston Bellaire, sr.
First baseman — Chris Andritsos, Conroe The Woodlands, soph.
Second baseman — Matt Heck, Midlothian, jr.
Shortstop — Bret Boswell, Rockwall Heath, sr.
Third baseman — Michael Ketchmark, Richardson Lake Highlands, sr.
Outfielders — Cody Thomas, Colleyville Heritage, sr.; Charcer Burks, Fort Bend Travis, sr.; Mark Ecker, San Antonio O’Connor, sr.
Designated hitter — Josh Sawyer, San Angelo Central, sr.
Player of the Year — (tie) Ryan Burnett, Conroe The Woodlands, sr. and Dakota Mills, Fort Bend Dulles, sr.
Coach of the Year — Ron Eastman, Conroe The Woodlands.
Pitchers — Carter Hope, Conroe The Woodlands, sr.; Josh Pettitte, Deer Park, sr.; Jake Elliott, Coppell, sr.
Catcher — Alex Dunlap, Conroe The Woodlands, sr.
First baseman — Dustin Williams, Weatherford, sr.
Second baseman — Francisco “Pancho” Martinez, Mission Sharyland, sr.
Shortstop — Sheldon Neuse, Keller Fossil Ridge, sr.
Third baseman — Kenny Hill, Southlake Carroll, sr.
Outfielders — Kendall Coleman, Rockwall, sr.; E.J. Garcia, Laredo Alexander, sr.; Charlie Warren, Conroe The Woodlands, sr.
Designated hitter — Hunter Hargrove, Mansfield, sr.
Pitchers — Zach Kornely, Grapevine, sr.; Corbin Martin, Cypress Ranch, jr.; and (tie) Turner Larkins, Arlington Martin, jr. and Justin Garcia, San Antonio O’Connor, sr.
Catcher — Tres Barrera, Mission Sharyland, sr.
First baseman — Zach Brosch, Cypress Ranch, sr.
Second baseman Aaron Black, Austin Westlake, sr.
Shortstop — Kramer Robertson, Waco Midway, sr.
Third baseman — Tyler Jones, Coppell, sr.
Outfielders — Jason Serchy, San Antonio Churchill, sr.; Eric Williams, Garland Sachse, sr.; Darryn Sheppard, Fort Bend Dulles, sr.
Designated hitter — Octavio Rodriguez, El Paso Franklin, sr.
Pitchers — Kacy Clemens, Spring Branch Memorial, sr.; Tucker Davidson, Amarillo Tascosa, jr.; Dylan Dusek, Ft. Bend Kempner, sr.; Mark Ecker, SA O’Connor, sr.; Eder Erives, EP Montwood, sr.; Blake Goins, Pearland, sr.; Justin Haros, Cedar Ridge, jr.; Matt Herrick, Garland Naaman Forest, sr.; Seth Jordan, Flower Mound, jr.; Jackson Lancaster, Midland, jr.; Shelton Neuse, Fossil Ridge, sr.; Tyler Thorne, Lubbock Coronado, sr.
Catchers — Danny Benavides, J.B. Alexander, sr.; Derek Dickerson, Cypress Ranch, jr.; Diego Gaona, Eagle Pass, jr.; Justin Garcia, SA O’Connor, sr.; Jose Galindo. EP Montwood, sr.; Ben Kennedy, A&M Consolidated, sr.; Jon Tauzin, Fort Bend Travis, sr. ; Matt Waller, Arlington Martin, sr.
First basemen — Dylan Dusek, Ft. Bend Kempner, sr. ; Armando Lopez, Eagle Pass, fr.; J.D. Ortega, EP El Dorado, sr.; Robby Sluss, Harker Heights, sr.
Second basemen — Connor Gesell, S.A. Johnnson, sr.; Connor McCalla, Langham Creek. sr.
Shortstops — Trevor Ahin, Cibolo Steele, sr.; Taylor Bailey, Stony Point, sr.; Ryne Birk, Katy Seven Lakes, sr.; Eric Garza, San Antonio Reagan, sr.; Zane Gurwitz, San Antonio Churchill, sr.; Matt Herrick, Garland Naaman Forest, sr.; Gilbert Sanchez, Midland, jr.; Caden Williams, Ft. Bend Dulles, sr.
Third basemen — Juan Lopez, Eagle Pass, sr.; Elijah Perez, San Marcos, jr.; Sergio Pollorena, Laredo United, sr.; Reid Russell, Longview, sr.
Outfielders — Connor Beck, Midland, sr.; Nathan Jackson, Houston Bellaire, sr.; Bryce Johnson, Cypress Ranch, jr.; Anthony Lyons, Arlington Martin, sr.; Kirby McGuire, Round Rock, sr.; Walker Pennington, Houston Spring Branch Memorial, sr.; Brent Stewart, Midland, sr.; Jeremy Mortensen, Coppell, sr.; Connor Wanhanen, Flower Mound, jr.; Daniel Williams, Cedar Ridge, sr.