By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
The last time Dillon Newman and Shane Hoelscher squared off, it was for fun.
It was likely more fun for Newman - he wasn't on the receiving end of three fastballs traveling a bit too far inside.
But the next time the former Belton baseball teammates meet could mean a trip to the NCAA Super Regionals.
Freshmen at Rice and Baylor, Hoelscher and Newman have made an impact on their respectively teams. And in doing so, have helped both schools reach the postseason - Rice and Baylor are in the Houston Regional at Rice's Reckling Park.
"(Hoelscher) actually texted me right before the (selection) show was coming on, and he asked me where I thought we'd end up," Newman said. "Turns out we ended up getting him, so I'm really excited to be on the same field with Shane again."
Baylor, making its 12th tournament appearance in 14 years, opens play at 2 p.m. today against California. Rice, a national seed (No. 8) for the fourth time in six years, follows at 6 p.m. against Alcorn State.
If both win or if both lose, Baylor and Rice could meet Saturday for the second time this year.
Baylor won the first meeting, a 12-8 dramatic victory in extra innings at the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park. Tied 8-8, Baylor's Max Muncy hit a walk-off grand slam to end it in the 10th.
Newman didn't get into the game, but Hoelscher had a pair of run-scoring singles.
"I hope it doesn't come down that close this time," Newman said.
Said Hoelscher: "We lost, but I thought (the walk-off) was still pretty cool."
Newman has worked out of the bullpen, but started once (a no-decision against Lamar University).
It's quite a change from his place as Belton's ace. Newman went 13-1 as a senior, carrying a sub-1.00 ERA through most of the season.
"It's been a little different - it's not what I've been used to," said Newman, whose 3.08 ERA is third lowest among the Bears' relievers. "But it's given me the opportunity to learn from a lot of upperclassmen. They can show you even the smallest things."
Newman (1-1) picked up his only win against Louisiana Tech in March. He entered in the fourth inning with Baylor down 7-5 and tossed three shutout innings while the Bears rallied for a 12-8 win.
He's added a slider to his repertoire, while also getting some first-hand experience on what he already knew coming in.
"Not to leave anything down the middle," said Newman, who has 17 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings pitched.
Hoelscher wasted little time making his impact. He pinch hit in Rice's opener and got his first start the next day.
Settling in at third base, Hoelscher has appeared in all but three of Rice's 60 games - 19 more than Belton played last year in reaching the Region II-5A semifinals.
"It's more innings to play, more games to play," said Hoelscher, who is hitting .276 with 12 doubles and 35 RBI. "You play five games a week instead of just two. It's more exhausting than anything, but it's fun."
The increase meant weight training during the season - a first for Hoelscher - and watching what he does and eats to recover and keep his strength up.
His welcome-to-college moment came the opening weekend.
"We came out and played Stanford - they're a premier program," Hoelscher said of the 16-time College World Series participant and two-time champions. "I saw the guys and I just thought, 'Man, this is another step.'"
In addition to the game's faster pace and better talent across the board, Hoelscher adjusted to what he didn't see a lot of last year - inside pitches.
He hit a school-record 14 home runs as a senior to go with a .411 average, 56 RBI, 52 runs and 16 doubles. Hoelscher also walked 20 times as opponents carefully pitched to him.
That's not the case in college.
"They pitch you everywhere," said Hoelscher, hit nine times at the plate. "They pitch you in and out. They pitch me just like Dillon pitched me."
Newman hit Hoelscher three times when the two faced off last year to determine the Daily Herald's Baseball MVP - Hoelscher did get a hit down the third-base line and drew a walk.
If the two meet up this weekend, neither will likely worry about that meeting last June. There will be bigger items on the agenda - like being one step closer to the College World Series.
"It's still Dillon up - I know it's still Dillon," Hoelscher said. "And it's still me."
Contact Angel Verdejo at (254) 501-7569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KDHsports.