‘High school version of Omaha’: Round Rock experience awaits PNG

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

PORT NECHES — Logan LeJeune has never been to Dell Diamond in Round Rock, but he has an idea of the atmosphere that awaits him and the Port Neches-Groves baseball team.

It’s a timely vision, too.

“In my mind, I have a high school version of Omaha,” the graduated second baseman said. “That’s where the best teams go. So, I mean, having a lot of people there and four great teams there, just going out and seeing a lot of people and having a great game.”

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Unlike the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., the UIL state baseball playoffs are single elimination, but the experience for the teams that make it are invaluable and rewarding. It took 13 years for the Indians (32-8-2) to return to a state semifinal, and it’s been 17 years since the program has last played in a state championship game, longer than many of the current players have been around.

“We’re just trying to get mentally prepared,” fourth-year PNG coach Scott Carter said. “They have no idea what they’re in store for. You’re playing in Round Rock. You’re playing in the pinnacle. You’re playing on the biggest stage in high school baseball, and it’s to be at Round Rock. The only thing that’s bigger than what we’re doing is playing Saturday in the state championship game.”

PNG is the second Carter-coached team to reach the state rounds. His 2012 Sweeny team fell to West 10-3 in the 3A semifinals at Austin.

“The first time through for me — I know what it’s like and what it takes — it’s a huge thing for them to be focused and ready to do it,” Carter said. “The team I took in 2012 was a great baseball team. They did a great job all season long and I take nothing from them. We had a couple of things go wrong in that game and we ended up losing the semifinal game. We just want to try to get there, win this one and move on.”

The challenge in front of the Indians now is Frisco Wakeland (38-4-1), making its second state appearance and first since losing to Calallen in the 2010 4A semifinals. The Wolverines have pounded 13 home runs on the season and have three batters averaging better than .400 on the season — seniors Collin McDuffee, J.T. Thompson and Jared Martin.

No matter who Carter calls to the mound for Thursday’s start — he hadn’t yet decided as of Tuesday evening and normally doesn’t like to announce a starter until the game — the Indians live by the belief of nine players against one, meaning PNG’s entire defense against the opposing batter.

The defense is backing up a staff capable of putting together complete-game gems including seniors Brandon Morse and Nathan Vidrine and junior Josh Hranicky. Morse and Hranicky did just that last week in the 5A Region III championship series against Brenham.

That was at Sam Houston State, now home to a team that’s just a best-of-three series away from Omaha. For now, Dell Diamond is PNG’s Omaha.

The Indians have made it. They just have to see it.

“I think it’s going to be like nothing we’ve experienced before,” senior outfielder Hayden Guerra said. “I looked up the stadium. It holds 11,000 people. It’s a really nice facility. It’s going to be a great experience just playing there, and especially if we make it to the state championship, just to represent our city.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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