BASEBALL: Next goal in mind: District champ Ned meeting Dayton at the Hill

Published 7:57 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2018

NEDERLAND — Four years had passed since Nederland last won a district championship.

Along with the relief the Bulldogs might feel from winning District 22-5A comes the pressure of backing up their top seed in the UIL 5A baseball playoffs.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” senior third baseman and pitcher Alan Underwood said. “I think it’s mainly a relief because we know we can beat teams like PNG [Port Neches-Groves] twice because they’re a really talented ballclub. We need a lot of confidence going into this series.”

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The Bulldogs (21-6-1, 13-1 in 22-5A) have the task of ending another long drought. They’ve not gotten past the first round of the playoffs since beating Dayton in the 2013 4A bi-districts and advancing to the regional quarterfinals against Montgomery.

“Knowing that we’re going to the playoffs with a district championship, that puts a bigger target on our backs,” senior pitcher Braydon Credeur said. “However, we’ve got to play with all that target. We have to keep finding and grind it out.”

Nederland will face Dayton (19-10-1, 10-7 in 21-5A) again starting Wednesday night, but on neutral ground. Their entire best-of-three bi-district series will unfold at Barbers Hill High School.

Nederland played in a tournament there in early March, falling to Langham Creek, Pearland Dawson and Galveston Ball but beating College Park.

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage or disadvantage,” third-year Bulldogs coach Bryan Spell said, asked about being on a neutral turf for the first round. “We played a tournament there already. We played four games there already. We know it’s a great surface and a great ballpark. It’s a great atmosphere against a great team, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Dayton has waited a long time just to play in the postseason, making its first appearance since losing the 2015 5A bi-districts to Goose Creek Memorial. The Broncos have made it back under first-year head coach Sonny Garcia, a former minor-leaguer from Houston and assistant coach at alma mater Texas Southern.

“They’re scrappy,” Spell said. “They’re athletic. They do things right. I know they have some quality arms. This past week, they split with Barbers Hill, so we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us.”

Barbers Hill, the 21-5A champion, reached the 5A Region III quarterfinals a year ago before losing to eventual state champion Port Neches-Groves.

Whoever Garcia sends to the mound for Game 1 will have to contend with the bat of junior Landon Hiltz, who finished the regular season batting .462 with two triples and two home runs. Hiltz has batted in 32 runs and stolen 20 bases.

He’s not the only key contributor on a deep Nederland lineup.

“We’ve got guys, that, it seems like, throughout the year stepped up and made plays for us to win ballgames,” Spell said.

Underwood has contributed both on the mound and at the plate. Credeur, who will start Game 1 for the Bulldogs, is committed to Lamar.

Both are among a class of 12 seniors who finally got to experience a district title — with more baseball to play.

“I think if we keep the way we are, keep hitting, keep pitching and keep playing defense the way we all, we can go all the way to state,” Credeur said.

The last District 22-5A champion did.

“We talked about handling the pressure,” Spell said. “If you’re going to win a championship, whether it be a district championship, or a round in the playoffs, you’re going to have to handle that pressure. We like to think we do some things with our baseball team that can apply pressure on other teams.”

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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