Hallettsville baseball coach Shorty Cook admitted nerves were likely his biggest concern.
Playing in the prestigious Dell Diamond can be an intimidating, especially when there’s a shot at the 2A state championship on the line.
“(The biggest factor will be) handling the moment, being able to handle the moment at Dell Diamond,” Cook said.
But while the home of the Texas Rangers’ AAA affiliate — the Round Rock Express — is sometimes jarring, Salado senior shortstop Jon Franz believes any nerves will wash away fairly quickly.
“There will definitely be some nerves, … it’s a bigger stage than what we’ve played on before — the atmosphere for everybody will be a lot different,” Franz said. “But I think once we get that first inning under our belt, I think we should be fine.”
Franz’s second-ranked Eagles (34-6-1) will test those nerves against Cook’s No. 7 Brahmas (33-3) in the second Class 2A state semifinal, at Dell Diamond in Round Rock at 7 p.m. It’ll be Salado’s first trip to state since winning it all in 2008, while Hallettsville has been five times, the last in 1998.
The other semifinal pits top-ranked Hughes Springs (35-1) against Bangs (27-8) at 4 p.m., with the winners of the two semifinals advancing to the 2A state championship at noon Thursday, also at Dell Diamond.
“It’s kind of a big deal, but we know what’s at stake, we know that we can’t let that kind of stuff get to our heads because we’re out there to do a job and advance to Thursday and play in the final game,” said Franz, who leads Salado offensively (.446 average, 62 hits, 21 doubles, 46 RBIs). “I definitely think they’ll be some nerves, and I will have some of those nerves.”
There are several factors that could help calm the visiting Eagles, which have only lost twice all season when batting first.
Key among those is who they’ll trot out to the mound.
As it did in a must-win Game 3 in the Region III-2A final against Troy last Friday, Salado turns to junior ace Casey Frazier (11-0, 0.42 ERA, 88 Ks) — a no-brainer for Krempin.
“There is no state championship if you lose the first one,” Krempin said.
Frazier has won 23 games in a row since suffering a loss against top-ranked Robinson in his first-ever varsity start at the beginning of last season. Since then, though, he’s been untouchable, allowing just five earned runs all.
Franz credited Frazier’s unflinching composure on the mound with keeping the rest of the team calm, cool and collected, regardless of the situation.
“Casey’s one of those guys that I don’t think there’s much that will get to him,” Franz said. “He handles pressure really well, which is why he’s one of the best pitchers that I’ve ever seen pitch.”
Hallettsville enters as the only 2A team without a loss this postseason, sweeping Kountze, East Bernard Bishop and Marion by a combined score of 67-25.
Averaging more than 8 runs per game in the playoffs, the Brahmas have four players batting over .400 on the season including seniors Carson Schindler (.475 average, 56 hits, 45 RBIs, 59 runs, 30 stolen bases) and Will Wallace (.456, 52 hits, 13 doubles, 48 RBIs, 38 runs).
“We’ve played good baseball as of late, … and I’m real proud of how our kids handled those tests and responded on the field,” Cook said. “We have a bunch of kids that are pretty resilient, and they’re going to battle and fight hard till the end.”
Much like Salado, the Brahmas are strong on the mound, led by senior right-hander Reagan McAda (9-0, 96 Ks in 74 innings, 1.13 ERA) and lefty Chris Jones (9-0, 75 Ks in 46 1/3 innings, 1.66 ERA). Cook was unsure who he’ll start tonight.
“To be honest, we’re undecided just yet between McAda and Jones,” Cook said.
But with McAda nursing a sore ankle he suffered last weekend during the Region IV final, Krempin is expecting to see Jones.
To counter, Krempin brought in a special guest pitcher to practice Tuesday — former Eagles and UMHB left-hander Sam VanHoozer, who was a senior on Salado’s 2008 state championship team.
“We’re just trying to get mentally right for a left-hander in case we see one,” Krempin said.