PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 11, 2013

Local baseball teams prepare for district play

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

— A year removed from the introduction of BBCOR bats into high school baseball and the offense-dampening effect has all but been forgotten. Instead, local teams are back to business as usual, as Nederland, Port Neches-Groves and Port Arthur Memorial have eyes on the playoffs with district play beginning Tuesday.

At Nederland, head coach Cody Robbins said his team’s biggest strength has been clutch hitting. The Bulldogs have plenty to make up for, after losing for the first time in school history in the first round of the playoffs last year to Barbers Hill.

That loss may have driven a talented senior group to work harder in the offseason, according to Robbins. Five of the Bulldog players could sign to play college ball this season and putting that many talented players on a mission together could lead to some special results.

“I think everyone was disappointed in how last season ended,” Robbins said. “We are a senior heavy group, and I think they’ve matured since last year in their leadership. Chemistry is a big thing. I’m starting to see this team having the ‘it’ factor.”

The Bulldogs (10-2) lost starting pitcher Brett Brown, who led the nation in strikeouts a year ago, but have a very talented crop of arms this season.

“I feel like we’ve played pretty well,” Robbins said. “We pitched well and swung the bats very well. Our whole staff has all thrown well. We don’t walk a whole lot of people. They throw strikes and attack the zone. The big thing is we’ve been getting consistent outings by our pitchers. They haven’t been up and down. They’ve been pretty consistently good.”

Seniors Gabe Nevala, Carson Raines and Mitchell Sanderson have gotten the majority of the innings so far, but Nederland’s deep staff also features Preston White, Jared Ramoin, Beau Stewart and Korey Clark in important roles.

On offense, the Bulldogs may not have a home run yet, but they have a knack for coming up big in key situations.

“We’re getting big two-out RBIs,” Robbins said. “We had at least 22 or 23 two-out RBIs. They’re just getting it done with runners in scoring position and creating things up there. We knew they were capable of it, but they’re getting in games and doing it.”

Nederland opens 20-4A play by traveling to Vidor at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, year two for Port Arthur Memorial head coach Jessie Riojas has been going well. The Titans won four straight games last week before losing to Hamshire-Fannett at the Kirbyville tournament. That included two shutouts and just seven runs allowed period in four games at Kirbyville.

For Riojas, who had a successful run at West Orange-Stark before taking over the Titans last season, it starts with pitching and defense.

“Pitching and defense hurt us (last year),” Riojas said. “It was more about the mental part of the game. They just couldn’t quite grasp it as quickly last year. That’s one of the things I stressed in the offseason. For our pitchers, we have to hit our spots and throw strikes. Last year, we walked too many guys and gave up too many hits when we were ahead in the count.

“Now, we’re doing all those things and playing good defense. It’s all mental and they’re figuring it out.”

Memorial is led on the mound by Robert Howard, reliever Jonathan Sanchez and freshman phenom Ramiro Sanchez. The precocious Ramiro has already established himself as one of the best all-around players on the team, while Howard twirled a complete-game shutout last weekend against Buna.

In the field, the Titans are led again by Robert Howard, both Sanchezes and Gama Martinez. Howard and Sanchez were both honorable mention all-district picks last season, as the Titans just missed a spot in the playoffs. The freshman Sanchez has already hit three home runs and is batting .400 with four doubles, one triple, 17 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Martinez, too, is one of five Titans hitting over .300 for the season and just missed out on hitting for the cycle last week in Buna.

All of that success has made the Titans a confident bunch. They’re not just focused on making the playoffs for the first time in school history. They’re counting down the days to the state tournament.

“We have no doubt that we can make the playoffs,” Riojas said. “They have already set their goal to win district. Being together and working towards these goals, they’ve developed a lot of confidence. They already have a countdown to the state tournament. Their goals are very high.

“Just to make the playoffs isn’t the end. We take a lot of pride in what they’re doing. The results are showing very quickly. I’m excited to see how this season will end.”

Memorial (7-5) opens District 21-5A play at Deer Park at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

District 20-4A defending champ PN-G (5-8) has hit a bump after breezing through district play last season with a perfect record. The Indians graduated a pair of starting pitchers in Aaron Graham and Jayce Nelson, but brought back a strong corps both on the mound and at the plate.

The chemistry that was present last year may be slow in forming, but the Indians still have a potent mix of players who can hang with anyone in the district. PN-G returns players like catcher Yancey Foster, outfielder Kaleb Clark and second baseman Dylan Saatzer, but will also get plenty of contributions from underclassmen like pitchers Logan Ashworth and Ky Walker.

PN-G recently went 1-3 at the Lufkin tournament, but got a very strong effort from freshman pitcher Ryan Leckich lost his no-hit bid in the seventh with two outs.

PN-G will open district by hosting Lumberton at 7 p.m. Tuesday.