Prior to the release of our All-Big Country Preps softball and baseball teams on Friday and Saturday, Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood will review the 2018-19 school year throughout this week and the top athletic stories produced by the area in football, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball.
The 2019 baseball season was a wildly successful one for schools in the Big Country Preps coverage area. Wall won its first state championship in program history, Albany got back to the Class 2A state tournament for the second time in three years and a number of other programs made deep playoff runs and/or took big steps forward.
Now, it’s time to take a look back at the season we just completed and celebrate the teams and games that made 2019 unforgettable.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and hit the highlights.
TEAMS OF THE YEAR
Few things I’ve done in life or journalism have been easier than selecting this year’s “Team of the Year.” That’s a natural byproduct of having a team go 39-1 on its way to its first state championship as the Wall Hawks did.
Wall, which fell in the Class 3A state title game in its first state tournament appearance in 2017, outscored its opponents by an insane 460-65 margin in 2019 and didn’t lose its first game until Game 2 of its Region I-3A championship series against Brock. And the Hawks responded to their lone setback with a 20-1 win over the Eagles in Game 3, before edging Kirbyville (5-4 in nine innings) and Blanco (2-1) in Round Rock.
Coach Jason Schniers’ squad spent most of the season atop the Class 3A rankings and lived up to every bit of the hype in the postseason, knocking off quality clubs from Clyde and Breckenridge in addition to Brock to escape a tough Region I bracket.
Albany, the only other team in the BCP coverage area to reach the state tournament, and Brock, the only team to hand Wall a loss, deserve honorable mention here as well. Coach David Fairchild’s young Lions team (23-8) made an impressive run through Region I-2A before falling in the state semifinals to eventual champion Dallardsville Big Sandy, while the Eagles (31-7-1) came within one victory of replacing Wall as Region I’s representative at the Class 3A state tournament.
GAMES OF THE YEAR
Our team of the year was also responsible for two of our best games of the year, and both occurred at Dell Diamond with the Hawks’ state title hopes on the line.
The first came in the semifinals against Kirbyville, when the Hawks needed a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to extend the game before scoring the winning run the ninth. The second came in the title game against Blanco, when pitchers Luke Young and Zac Wisdom traded zeros for five innings before Wall finally broke through with a pair of runs in the sixth.
Our other games of the year both involved New Deal, which rallied from a game down to beat Hawley in three games in the Region I-2A semis before falling to Albany two games to one in the region championship round.
Hawley scored a walk-off win over New Deal in Game 1, rallying for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to hand the Lions a 4-3 loss. But New Deal got the last laugh, winning two one-run games when that series resumed the next day.
Albany returned the favor, though, one round later, rebounding from an 8-0 Game 1 loss to score a 7-6 win in Game 2 and a 4-3 victory in the deciding third game. Fairchild’s Lions scored a run in the top of the sixth to break a 6-all tie in Game 2 and scored single runs in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to rally from a late 3-2 deficit in Game 3.
Our two biggest surprises of 2019 were led by first-year head coaches with the same name.
Kevin Bartley’s Stamford Bulldogs rebounded from a rocky regular season to reach the third round of the Region I-2A playoff bracket, while his son’s Breckenridge Buckaroos beat out Brock for the District 7-3A title on their way to a remarkable 31-5 campaign.
Stamford’s shocking run, which ended with a three-game series loss to Hawley in the I-2A quarterfinals, followed a winless district season. The Bulldogs closed out their first season on the elder Bartley’s watch with just a 12-16-1 overall record, but they built some serious momentum for the future.
Breckenridge, meanwhile, built on an 18-12 season from 2018 in the younger Bartley’s first season on campus, dropping just two games during the regular season. The Buckaroos won 19 games in a row at one point, before falling to Holliday in Game 2 of their area-round series.
After coming back to win that series, they had Wall on the ropes in Game 1 of the Region I-3A quarterfinals. But the Hawks outlasted Breck for a 5-4 win, and the Bucks saw their banner year end one game later with an 11-1 loss.
While you could easily point to Breckenridge’s third-round meeting with Wall as a tough draw, given that the two were the highest-ranked teams in Region I entering the playoffs, there was another matchup in that same bracket that trumped it as our headliner.
That designation goes to Cisco’s second-round meeting with Brock, which was put in motion by the Eagles’ second-place finish to Breck in District 7-3A. The Loboes had a fantastic regular season, taking an 18-4 record and the momentum of a District 6-3A championship into the playoffs.
But their reward for that was an area-round meeting with a Brock team that had reached the state tournament in 2018 and held the No. 1 ranking in 3A for the first few weeks of this season. Cisco held its own against the Eagles, but was eventually swept 7-6 and 4-0.
TEAMS ON THE RISE
The fact that Albany and Breckenridge have been featured so prominently in this column already should send chills down the spines of their rivals because both could take considerable steps forward in 2020.
In addition to returning two outstanding starting pitchers in senior-to-be Ben West and junior-to-be Cade Neve, the Lions will bring back most of its lineup — making improvement on the offensive side likely.
And the junior-heavy Buckaroos return five of their top six innings leaders on the mound, including standouts Owen Woodward and Justin Bell, while also bringing back nine players who recorded at least 46 plate appearances.
It’s scary to think how good these two teams could be next season.
Another team to watch out for is the Wylie Bulldogs, who won their district and posted a 17-10 record with a rotation comprised of sophomores Dash Albus and Walker Piland and freshman Brooks Gay.
Coach Clay Martin will have to replace a few key seniors, including first baseman/pitcher Tyler Spears, third baseman Kanon Doby and catcher Caleb Munton, but the bulk of his talent returns in 2020.
OUR 2018 ALL-BIG COUNTRY PREPS BASEBALL TEAM
- Football (published Sunday, June 16)
- Girls basketball (published Monday, June 17)
- Boys basketball (published Tuesday, June 18)
- Softball (published (Wednesday, June 19
Don’t miss our All-Big Country Preps softball and baseball teams, which will be released Friday and Saturday, along with Big Country Preps All-Hustle team, featuring the hardest-working players in the area! Our reviews of boys basketball, baseball and softball are coming up later this week.
Photos may be purchased for $7 each by clicking on the small shopping cart emblem below the lower right corner of the two galleries below.