The Salado Eagles aren’t ready to hang up their cleats yet.
While every team hopes to reach the playoffs, the Eagles intend to make the most of their opportunity.
“If we can go pretty far, it will be a successful year,” senior Dalton Hawes said, “especially with the new coach and the new faces on the team.”
Salado is in its first year with head coach Emery Atkisson, but the Eagles never worried about the transition period that comes with a new program.
“We were familiar with Coach, he was here last year,” Konnor Baird said. “We sort of knew what his philosophy was, so we didn’t really have any pressure coming in.”
With a core of young players that moved up to varsity, the first-year head coach prepared an intense nondistrict schedule stacked with talented competition.
“Last summer, when I made the schedule, every team that we played outside of tournaments and
outside of district went three rounds in the playoffs,” Atkisson said, “and that was done to get our guys ready and playing against the best competition around and really seeing how the game is supposed to play.
“After losing seven starters, you have so many different faces and so many new guys who maybe don’t know how the game is supposed to be played. Giving them an opportunity to play against teams like Robinson and Gateway and Lorena, who are just traditionally good ball clubs, gave us time to really learn where we’re at and what we need to do as a program to grow.”
Now, Atkisson can see the scheduled paid off.
“The last few weeks, we’ve really kind of seen a transcendence, and that’s really a testament to the kids,” he said. “Just seeing them grow and growing with them has been the coolest part for me.”
And while the Eagles never mentioned the playoffs throughout the season it was in the back their minds.
“It would be stupid for that not to be our goal,” Baird said. “So, we come out here every day and that’s what’s on our mind -- Austin and playing in June.
“So, hopefully we can get there.”
Though the Eagles are picking up steam at just the right time, the road was bumpy.
“Our very first game against Robinson, we made seven errors and I think we struck out 13 times,” Atkisson said.
Following the game, Robinson head coach Bryan Kent offered some words of wisdom.
“He said, ‘Man, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,’” Atkisson said, “and those words resonated with me the rest of the year.”
From that moment, Atkisson took on the rest of the season as a challenge and focused on the big picture of guiding the Eagles to the postseason.
“It’s been really beneficial for me taking that stress away,” he said of the mindset change, “because early on, you want to win every single game, you want to blow everybody out of the water, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen.
“So, you just have to look at it as an opportunity to grow, and I think we’ve done that across the board.”
Salado embraced the ups and downs that have come along their journey to the playoffs.
“I think what’s special is that is hasn’t been smooth to get to where we are,” Baird said. “Last year, we had a lot of talent, and we were loaded. I’m not saying we don’t have talent this year, but this year, we really had to work together and push through hard moments to get to where we are.”
The Eagles’ playoff run begins tonight as they face Wimberley in Game 1 of a best-of-three bi-district series, starting at 7 p.m. at Pflugerville Connally High School.
“The great thing about the playoffs is everything’s washed,” Atkisson said. “Your batting average starts over, your wins and losses start over, and it’s a fresh start for a lot of guys who might not have had the season that they wanted to so far. So, we really look at it as an opportunity to clean the slate and start over after building all year long.”