BASEBALL: Mid County affair: Nederland grad leads Jasper, PNG alum helps TW to state

Published 6:46 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Stephen Westbrook served on Shea Landry’s baseball staff at West Orange-Stark the last time the Mustangs played for a state championship. That was three years ago at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin.

This year’s playoffs will again be held at the University of Texas’ ballpark, but Westbrook’s Jasper Bulldogs are looking to go a step further and win it all in Class 4A.

“We’re telling the kids to enjoy the moment,” said Westbrook, a 1990 Nederland graduate. “Not a lot of these kids get to do this. We’re playing a team that’s 35-0. We feel like if we do what we’ve done, pitch, play defense and hit, we like our chances.”

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The unbeaten team, Argyle, beat West Orange-Stark in the 2015 4A final.

Both Argyle and Jasper (33-7-1), which last won state in 3A in 2007, are vying for the right to succeed back-to-back champion Abilene Wylie on the throne. They’re playing the first 4A semifinal Wednesday, with Godley (30-2) and Sweeny (34-5) to follow.

The championship game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Disch-Falk. All other UIL state-round games are held at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

Jasper coach Stephen Westbrook (Courtesy of Stephen Westbrook)

Westbrook isn’t the only Mid County native coaching at state. Dell Diamond is hosting The Woodlands (25-14-1), a 6A semifinalist which has a 1992 Port Neches-Groves graduate on its coaching staff.

“I’m kind of like the bench coach,” The Woodlands assistant Chad Rozelle said. “We have a pretty large coaching staff. I’m watching for substitutions, helping out wherever I’m needed.”

Rozelle, who has 20 years of teaching experience, is going for his third state championship and the Highlanders’ fourth. He was on staff for their 5A championships in 2000 and 2013 but was junior varsity coach at crosstown rival College Park when TW won it all in 2006.

“That one really hurt to miss because I invested seven years [at TW], and then I moved onto the rival,” Rozelle said. “Kyle Drabek and Paul Goldschmidt [both MLB veterans] were on that team.”

Westbrook is winding down his second season with Jasper in thrilling fashion. The Bulldogs came back from a 10-1 loss to Salado in last week’s 4A Region III final to score 9-8 and 5-2 wins and advance. The Bulldogs tied Lufkin Hudson for the District 21-4A championship.

“We came out Friday morning and had a brief practice,” Westbrook said. “We told the kids they have to believe in themselves. At that point we won 31 games. We needed to get back to what we’re doing, stay positive and believe in themselves.”

Jasper has rolled with the pitching arms of Colton Womack, Michael Soisson and Ben Jeansonne. Six Bulldogs — Henry McMillan, Leo Escalante, Trent Bryant, Victor Williams, Reese Duran and Soisson — bat .400 or better.

Jasper is Westbrook’s fourth stop as a head coach. He was West Orange-Stark’s head coach before going to Waskom and then Scurry-Rosser before returning to West Orange as an assistant.

“Jasper is rich-in-tradition baseball,” the former Lamar player said. “Nothing that I needed to bring there, just consistency. Jasper’s a place I want to be for a while. Our kids get in there and work hard, and they enjoy playing baseball.”

Rozelle did not play college baseball but has spent the last 17 years in the Conroe ISD. He followed his alma mater last year as PNG won its first baseball state title in 5A with classmate Norm Abshere going on to win state assistant coach-of-the-year honors.

The Woodlands finished third in District 12-6A but were “pretty much a .500 team” at one point, Rozelle said. Still, they came out of a tough district that saw all four playoff qualifiers go deep in the playoffs.

“Our guys got third. They kept fighting,” Rozelle said. “As they got into the playoffs, they clicked. They got on the chemistry and tried to feed off each other.”

Next for the Highlanders is Southlake Carroll (33-6) on Friday, with San Antonio Reagan (36-7) and Cypress Ranch (32-8-2) playing in the second semifinal. The 6A final is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I don’t have a college-playing background like a lot of other guys,” Rozelle said. “I’m just a worker or a grinder and fortunate to be on a great team.”

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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