The Port Arthur News
Game 1: 7 p.m. Thursday at Barbers Hill High School
Game 2: 7 p.m. Friday at Nederland High School
Game 3: 1 p.m. Saturday; site TBD
It is hard to imagine Nederland coach Cody Robbins would trade his Bulldogs current 10-game winning streak for anything heading into the postseason.
Nederland started District 20-4A with a 1-3 record and has not lost since a 4-1 defeat to Port Neches-Groves on March 21. The Bulldogs went on to tie for the district title with Vidor, as both teams finished with 11-3 marks. Nederland is the top seed after winning a coin flip.
The Bulldogs (19-11) open the playoffs against a familiar foe, the Barbers Hill Eagles (19-7, 11-5) . Game 1 is at 7 p.m. tonight at Barbers Hill High School and Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Nederland High School. Game 3, if necessary, is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday. The site of Game 3 will be determined via coin clip prior to Game 1.
Robbins, who celebrated his 200th career win this season, said he would much rather his team be hitting its stride now than any other time in the season.
“What better time could you want?” Robbins asked. “Teams mature every year and it is just a matter of when it happens. Every team grows up. This team decided to do it in the middle of district play.”
Robbins said his team uses the tournament season to find out what lineups work best and as a chance to give players an opportunity to learn their own capabilities.
“We would play a good game in the tournament season and then play a bad game,” Robbins said. “Then we would play a good game and play two bad games. It was part of growing as a team. That is what the tournaments are for. I have seen a lot of teams peak during the tournaments and down the road you can’t find them when it comes playoff time.”
A lot of Nederland’s growing up centers around its defense. The Bulldogs made 17 errors during its 1-3 start to 20-4A. Nederland has made only 13 errors during its 10-game winning streak.
“We certainly have cut back on the errors,” Robbins said. “The entire coaching staff looked at those errors in the start of the season and realized they were routine plays. We knew and the kids knew we can make those plays. We also have done a better job of minimizing the damage after an error. At the start, we would make an error and then walk a batter or two. We have done a lot better job of focusing after a mistake.”
Robbins also knows his team, which only has two seniors in Korey Clark and Brian Feltman, is ready to keep playing its best when it matters the most.
“The kids know, everyone knows, that there is a lot more at stake,” Robbins said. “It is a season within a season. Our approach will be the same as it was throughout District 20-4A. Our district is always a playoff just to get to the playoffs because of how competitive it is every year. Now we are playing for the ultimate goal in high school sports, a state championship. The stakes are higher but our approach will be no different.”
Nederland does not know too much about the Eagles except for what Robbins is aware of from past games. The Eagles are well-coached under Gil Stalbaum and are typically the exact same style team as the Bulldogs.
“Historically, the Eagles can do it all between pitching, hitting and playing solid defense,” Robbins said. “They will play hard and this will not be a typical first-place team versus a fourth-place team. It will be more like two first-place teams getting together. It is going to come down to who executes the best in those three areas. It is always a tough first round when facing District 19-4A. Those teams really mirror our teams in a lot of ways in terms of talent and coaching. It is going to be an exciting series.”
Nederland enters the playoffs with a .260 team batting average and has produced 177 runs and 34 doubles. Freshman Chase Kemp and Feltman are both batting over .300.
The Bulldogs strength is in their pitching staff that has a combined 2.96 ERA. Kemp, Clark and Jace Borderlon all have ERAs under 1.88. Borderlon’s six wins are the most on the staff while both Clark and Kemp each have five.