, Port Arthur, Texas


March 27, 2013

Port Arthur Memorial's Jessie Riojas building the Titans program

PORT ARTHUR — If your sink is leaking, you call a plumber.

If your baseball program needs building, you call a program rebuilder.

That’s exactly what Port Arthur Memorial did when it hired Jessie Riojas away from West Orange-Stark last season. The Titans have never made the baseball playoffs in school history, and Riojas was tasked in changing that.

Luckily, he had plenty of experience doing the same thing in his previous job. Though it had success under previous regimes, West Orange-Stark made the state tournament just once in its existence, back in 1991 when the Mustangs were semifinalists. Since that season, the Mustangs only made the playoffs four times.

In his first full season as head coach, Riojas had the Mustangs poised to get in the playoffs with a win on the season’s final day. They fell short that season of the third and final seed from District 21-3A, but made the playoffs in 2010 and advanced to the third round.

“West Orange had a history of success in the past, so we were just building it back up,” Riojas said. “We changed up everything from a mental aspect. We got the players to buy into the system in that first year.

“In that second year, we had everyone coming back. They had been in the system and knew what our expectations were. The guys were better trained physically and mentally. We got third spot, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2005.  That was a pretty big gap.”

In that third round series, Riojas and the Mustangs took on Orangefield, who made the regional finals against Jasper and featured a number of college stars like Texas catcher Jacob Felts and Lamar pitcher Chase Angelle.

So, by the time that Riojas took over the Memorial team in 2012, he had a pretty good track record of turning a program around. He also saw the similarities between the West Orange-Stark program he inherited and the one at Memorial.

“Memorial was almost same situation,” Riojas said. “We are trying to change everything. We’re trying to get a winning mentality. We lost some close ones last year. This year’s team, we have a lot of returners that had a good offseason. This year, we’re competing a lot better. We can still get in the playoffs, we just have to fight through these final eight games of the district schedule.”

The mental aspect of the game is huge for Riojas. From Day 1, Riojas has tried to instill a new mentality with his teams, hoping that focus and determination will lead will help buttress the fundamentals he teaches every day.

In just a year, that mentality is starting to take hold.

After falling short of the fourth and final playoff spot last season, Riojas has gotten contributions from up and down his lineup this year. Freshman pitcher Ramiro Sanchez joins Robert Howard in a good rotation and the hitters are showing power this season, too.

The biggest lesson Riojas is trying to impart, however, is patience.

“Patience is a big thing,” Riojas said. “(Success) is not going to happen overnight. We’re trying to stay positive, and to keep them believing in our system. It’s all about working hard through good times and bad. That’s how a baseball season works. There are always going to be tough times. You’re always going to go through adversity. You have to be mentally strong.”

Riojas is seeing the team turn a corner on the mental side, but it’s been tough dealing with losses to North Shore, Deer Park and Baytown Sterling in the first half of district play.

“I can see how far we’ve come,” Riojas said. “We can see the light. We just have to keep working hard and be patient. We still have eight district games left and we’re one game behind Sterling and West Brook for a playoff spot.”

Memorial (8-8, 1-3 in 21-5A) will face another test on Thursday, as the Titans travel to Beaumont West Brook for a 7 p.m. game.

In other action on Thursday, the Nederland baseball team will try to grab a share of first place in District 20-4A, traveling to undefeated Lumberton. The Bulldogs only district loss came last Friday at the hand of Port Neches-Groves.

PN-G will try to extend a four game winning streak by hosting Beaumont Ozen at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Indians beat Vidor 4-0 on Tuesday and have now given up just two runs in their last 22 innings of play.

On the softball side, the PN-G girls will face district-leading LC-M at the Reservation at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Lady Indians are hoping to bounce back from a 5-0 shutout loss at Lumberton on Tuesday.

The Nederland softball team will take that long road trip to Livingston for a 7 p.m. game Thursday. The Lady Bulldogs have now won four straight games after losing to PN-G earlier this season.

Port Arthur Memorial will open the second half of its district schedule by hosting Deer Park at 6:45 p.m. Thursday.

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  • Bassmaster Elites are coming back

    The Bassmaster Elite Series returns to Southeast Texas in March 2015 to fish out of Orange.
    The announcement was made last week, ahead of Bassmaster’s official tournament schedule announcement and the buzz is already strong in Southeast Texas and beyond.
    I was in Orlando, Fla. attending the ICAST (fishing trade) show and talked with a number of top anglers including Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli and Shaw Grigsby who said it was no surprise they would return considering the massive turnout for the weigh-ins and that the area welcomed them in a very special way.
    It’s far too early to speculate anything like who the top contenders will be or how the fishing will be but there are some things to keep in mind and to look for over the next few months and into the event itself.
    • Prefishing-There is a pre-fishing cutoff that usually extends to right before the Bassmaster Classic and I fully expect most of the anglers in the Elites to come back and prefish.
    Last go-round probably 2/3 of the field fished the area but this time I expect that to be just about everyone. Many of the anglers that did not pre-fish told me they expected to have a lot of water to fish but the sheer volume and diversity was almost overwhelming.
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    • East to West Runs-The Elite anglers fished far and wide but I expect even more running next go-round. After launching from the Simmons Drive Boat Ramp in Orange angler Bill Lowen ran down the Intracoastal, across Galveston Bay and fished in the Clear Lake area and placed in the top 12. The more adventurous anglers will try super long runs, in my opinion, even longer than last time to try and score on big fish. The Intracoastal Canal system makes that possible.
    • Sabine River -Very few of the anglers actually fished in the Sabine River despite the event being called the “Sabine River Challenge”. I think that will change with more anglers running as far north as they can to find pockets of fish that receive little pressure and perhaps a four or five-pounder to push them over the top.
    • Bigger Turnout-Last year some 34,000 people attended the event which set a Bassmaster record for an Elite event.
     It was broken a couple of weeks later in New York but I fully expect the 2015 tournament to draw 40,000 plus. The reason they are coming back is not for the stellar fishing because while we have lots of bass, everyone knows our fishery cannot compare to Toledo Bend for example.
    The support from the public however was amazing and that is what is bringing the top anglers on the planet to fish our area.
    We will have the very best coverage of the event beginning now and leading up to it with exclusive interviews with all of the top pros with not only their thoughts on the big event but with unique tips on how you can catch more fish.
    It’s an exciting time and I look forward to bringing you special coverage on a special event.
    (To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at or watch him on “God’ Outdoors with Chester Moore” Saturdays at 10 a.m. on

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From the Fieldhouse blog