By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Even from an early age, Bubba Luna proved he belonged with the big boys.
From the moment Luna stepped on the Salado field over three years, longtime Eagles baseball coach Melvin Bates knew the bright-eyed, wide-smiling freshman was going to play a major role for years to come.
"He's not very big, not very fast, not real strong, but once he steps on that field, then his heart is as big as anybody's and he can play with anybody," Bates said.
So despite an array of talented seniors around him this year - including Salado team catalyst Cole Calder, who ranked near the top of the area in every offensive category - it was Luna's ability as both a pitcher and a hitter that separated him as the area's most invaluable commodity, earning the nod for the Daily Herald's All-Area baseball MVP.
"There are a lot of great players out there - like really good players - so it's an honor," Luna said.
Starting on varsity since that freshman year, the 5-foot-6 Luna broke the mold in both roles, proving himself among the 11 seniors on the team this year - even to the point where he was the lone non-senior starter during Salado's stretch run to the Region IV-3A semifinals.
Moving into the No. 3 hole in the Eagles (27-11) batting order this season, the slap-hitting Luna was a run-producer despite only four extra-base hits all season (doubles), plating 38 RBIs while registering an astounding 42 singles.
"I loved it - it made me feel like I was a big guy," Luna said.
But it was his work as a "junk-ball" pitcher where the District 25-3A co-MVP stood out the most. While not a very hard thrower - with just an 81-mph fastball - Luna exerted exquisite control of his arsenal of five pitches to confound hitters, finishing the season unbeaten (10-0) with 90 strikeouts in 88 innings and an area-best 1.67 ERA.
All that despite having to wear a protective mask the entire postseason after suffering a small fracture in the maxilla bone under his right eye in the district finale against Liberty Hill.
"I wanted to be back on the field, I guess it was just the love of the game for me - I want to be out there," Luna said.
Newcomer of the Year
Ryan King, Belton, Jr.
King arguably had the strongest swing in the area, and built a reputation for his towering home runs in his first year on the Belton varsity. He quickly became one of the Tigers' cleanup hitters and excelled at the task. The junior first baseman hit .388 with nine home runs and 34 RBI. He also got on base at a .511 clip, which led to him scoring 32 runs.
Coach of the Year
Melvin Bates, Salado
Whether it was on the field or at home, the 25-year Eagles skipper maintained a strong familial bond with everyone around him. While trying to lead a scrappy, senior-laden team on a playoff run to state - eventually falling short at the Region IV-3A semifinals - Bates was struck a devastating blow with the news that his wife Judy was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in April. Yet, instead of letting it affect him negatively, Bates and the Eagles rallied around it, growing closer en route to a 27-11 record.
First Base: Clint Scarborough, Salado, Sr. - While his RBI total wasn't indicative of his cleanup position, the senior contributed in other ways, earning an All-District 25-3A nod at pitcher and finishing second on the team in runs (39).
Second Base: Max Hogan, Belton, Sr. - Hogan proved to be one of the area's toughest out this season hitting .467 and drawing an area-leading 32 walks (.622 OBP). He also had power, hitting six home runs and driving in 22.
Third Base: Brooks Mraz, Belton, Sr. - Mraz was lethal with runners on base this season, driving in an impressive 45 runs, while hitting six home runs, 13 doubles and sporting a .391 batting average.
Shortstop: D.J. Fisher, Ellison, Sr. - Despite not playing much as a junior, Fisher paced the Ellison (17-12-1) offense this year, leading the team in runs (31), hits (39), RBIs (30) and tied for first in home runs (4).
Left Field: Jose Hernandez, Ellison, Sr. - Roaming center field for the Eagles, Hernandez embodied the new small-ball approach offensively with a team-leading 10 sacrifices while finishing second on the team in hits (35), runs (26), home runs (3) and on-base percentage (.464).
Center Field: Cole Calder, Salado, Sr. - Although his numbers weren't quite as eye-popping as last year's .524 average, the senior leadoff hitter was Salado's catalyst offensively, leading the team in nearly every category: average (.448), hits (52), home runs (10), runs (44), RBI (49), slugging percentage (.879), and stolen bases (21).
Right Field: Peyton George, Gatesville, Jr. - Batting out of the pivotal No. 2 hole, George paced the Hornets with his bat and his speed, hitting .383 with 28 hits and scored 25 runs.
Catcher: Colbi Fuentes, Belton, Sr. - From the outset, Fuentes was one of the senior leaders for Belton and proved it at the plate, hitting .389 with five homers, 28 RBI and 33 runs scored.
Designated Hitter: Mike Ramirez, Florence, Sr. - What Ramirez lacked in stature - standing only 5-foot-6 - he made up for with speed. The Buffaloes lead-off man was second in the area with a .471 batting average and a whopping 52 stolen bases and 36 runs.
Pitchers: Seth Hallmark, Florence, Sr.; and Taylor Wright, Ellison, Sr. - At times, Hallmark was untouchable, striking out 15 batters against Fredericksburg, finishing with 78 strikeouts in only 46 inning pitched and a 1.83 ERA and 6-3 record for Florence. Despite not playing as a junior - after moving from Georgia - Wright battled through an appendectomy midseason to finish with a 7-3 record, 1.92 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 62 innings.
First base - Irvin Santamaria, Harker Heights
Second base - Emery Atkisson, Harker Heights
Shortstop - Micah Thompson, Gatesville
Third base - Ty Johnson, Copperas Cove
Catcher - Doak Hensley, Florence
Left field - Felix Marbury, Ellison
Center field - J.T. Gilmore
Right field - Jacob Heiner, Salado
DH - Matt Reed, Shoemaker
Pitchers - Jacob Spivey, Harker Heights
Tyler Vail, Belton