FEATURE: Uncommon pitching depth has Wylie baseball team built for long haul

For most high school baseball teams, the phrase “pitching staff” is something a misnomer.

A “staff,” for a fair majority of coaches, is comprised of a Tuesday starter, a Friday starter and one or two reliable relievers that can be leaned on to limit the number of innings needed by others.

In that regard, the 12th-ranked Wylie Bulldogs are a true anomaly. Blessed with an abundance of pitching depth — both in talent and meaningful experience — WHS coach Grant Martin has more quality pitchers than innings currently available for them. 

The uncommon nature of his situation isn’t lost on the second-year Wylie head coach, who currently has his team at 16-4 overall and off to a 6-1 start to District 4-5A play. He knows well what an asset that depth is at present and how important it will be come playoff time, when best-of-three series can force teams deeper into their bullpen than they’re used to.

“I’m extremely blessed with (pitching depth) and guys that we have a lot of confidence in that can go and get the job done,” Martin said. “Just to be able to bring guys in at different times, I think for us, is huge. I think anybody would tell you the same thing.”

Through their first 20 games, the Bulldogs have already used 12 pitchers — seven of whom have appeared in at least one district game. And lest you mistake that statistic as a product of ineffectiveness, the team’s ERA through its first 120 innings is remarkably low at 1.87.

Of the pitchers to appear on the mound this season for Wylie, eight have an ERA under 3 and six are below 1.50.

Topping that list are dual aces Dash Albus and Brooks Gay, who have been nearly untouchable this season for Martin, allowing a combined six earned runs in 54 innings. But those are just two of many capable pitchers for the Bulldogs, most of whom would have more prominent roles on teams with fewer pitching options.

“I think most high school teams don’t get to say that they have a pitching staff,” said Gay, a junior who is 5-1 with a 0.97 ERA and 0.897 WHIP over 29 innings this season. “We have a real pitching staff. I don’t think there’s another team in 5A that’s going to have as many guys as we have. We have three starters and then we have like five guys that come out of the bullpen that would have a possibility of being other teams’ aces. And we have some guys that don’t even get much mound time that are really good pitchers. That helps us out.

“But I think it comes down to the amount of work that everybody puts in. You can’t just go out on the mound and perform. It comes back to all the work everybody does in the summer and the offseason, getting prepared for the year. This year, I think everybody did a great job of that and it’s paying off.”

With Albus and Gay being so reliable, relief innings have been hard to come by since district play started. That’s limited the opportunities for mound time that some guys might have otherwise had.

But Martin said he hasn’t felt any pressure to force any particular pitcher into games because every member of the staff has the same goal — to help their team win through whatever role manifests itself. 

“I think our guys understand,” Martin said. “I don’t know that that really crosses my mind. That’s kind of weird to say, but for us and the way that we approach things, it’s all based off of team. They’re all ready for their next opportunity whenever it may come. So hats off to them for allowing me to just coach and not have to worry about those other intangibles.

“Obviously, we like guys in different roles, but for us being able to plug them in at different times, that’s just a compliment to them and their preparation and how they’ve done all year. It all comes back to waiting on their opportunity, but when they get it, they’ve taken full advantage of it. They really have.”

A shared team-first attitude has been one of the keys to Wylie’s pitching success this season. 

While some internal competition exists, and each pitcher wants to build on the previous success of his teammates, the players are ultimately rooting for each other to succeed. 

“Everybody wants everybody to do well, and you, yourself, want to go out there and do just as well or better than the last guy,” Gay said. “So I think what we have going on right now, everybody’s wanting to throw as many innings as they can and just win the game for their team. It makes you feel good when you throw a good game, but at the end, it’s about winning the game, and the pitching staff knows that.

“When a guy has a bad outing and another guy comes in, you give that guy knuckles, say ‘good luck’ and you hope they go out there and win the game. You hope they strike everybody out. You don’t want them to do bad. You want them to do well. And then you want to go out there and do just as well or better. I think it’s been really good. We don’t have anybody that’s negative or is hoping somebody else fails so they can take that step ahead of them. Everybody wants everyone to do well, and that’s contagious, too, I think. It’s a really healthy dugout.”

That healthy chemistry off the field has led to stellar results on it.

And the sheer volume of quality arms on the Bulldogs staff has allowed the team to absorb the temporary loss of senior Walker Piland, a rotation mainstay the past two seasons who has been limited to just four innings this year by some minor arm trouble.

Piland, an Abilene Christian University commit, is one of several Wylie pitchers who was part of the program’s area finalist squad in 2019 before seeing the 2020 season cut short by COVID. He’s also part of a senior class that has been pointing to this season for a while as its best opportunity for a deep run.

With Piland working his way back into a mix that also prominently features fellow seniors Jaxon Hansen (1.40 ERA in 15 innings) and Cooper Hrbacek (2.76 ERA in 12.2 innings) and junior Dante Cano (4.20 ERA in 11.2 innings), Albus expects the Wylie pitching staff to be at full force by playoff time and riding a wave of momentum into the postseason.

“We’ve got three starters right now, three Friday night guys, so Game 3 is going to be just as intense pitching as Game 1,” said the lefty, who is 6-0 with a 0.56 ERA in 25 innings. “That’s going to be a blessing. It’s awesome.

“And if our starter’s not doing so hot, we have nine other guys that can come in and get the job done. It’s awesome having that pressure off of you and just being able to throw your game. And if it’s not your day, it’s not your day. We’ve got people who can come in and get it done for you.”

With eight district games remaining, including home-and-home series with No. 15 Lubbock Coronado and No. 9 Lubbock Cooper, Wylie still has work to do before the postseason begins. 

But led by a unusually deep pitching staff and a strong senior class, the Bulldogs aim to make this a season to remember.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were about 9 years old, so … we’re just a big family at this point,” Albus said. “And it’s our senior year, why not make something happen?”

WYLIE PITCHING STATS

SEASON

Pitcher

IP H R ER SO BB HR

Brooks Gay (5-1, 0.97 ERA, 0.897 WHIP)

29.0 17 8 4 41 9

0

Dash Albus (6-0, 0.56 ERA, 1.200 WHIP)

25.0 21 4 2 25 9

0

Jaxon Hansen (1-2, 1.40 ERA, 0.867 WHIP)

15.0 7 7 3 17 6 0

Cooper Hrbacek (1-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.816 WHIP)

12.2 9 6 5 15 13

0

Dante Cano (2-1, 4.20 ERA, 2.057 WHIP)

11.2 10 7 7 21 14

1

Grayson Bearden (0-0, 3.36 ERA, 1.320 WHIP)

8.1 8 4 4 9 3

0

Landon Bailey (0-0, 4.85 ERA, 1.385 WHIP)

4.1

5 3 3 3 1

0

Walker Piland (1-0, 5.25 ERA, 1.75 WHIP)

4.0

4 3 3 5 4

1

Jaxon Rutledge (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.200 WHIP)

3.1

1 0 0 5 3

0

Reed Hughes (0-0, 2.33 ERA, 1.667 WHIP)

3.0

2 3 1 3 3

0

Riley Hood 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.125 WHIP)

2.2

1 0 0 3 2

0

Sam Walker (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP)

1.0 2 0 0 2 0 0
Totals 120.0 87 45 32 149 67

2

DISTRICT

Pitcher

IP H R ER SO BB

HR

Dash Albus (3-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.188 WHIP)

16.0

14 1 0 16 5

0

Brooks Gay (3-0, 0.93 ERA, 0.733 WHIP)

15.0

6 4 2 19 5

0

Cooper Hrbacek (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 2.143 WHIP)

4.2

5 3 2 5 5

0

Jaxson Hansen (0-1, 4.85 ERA, 0.923 WHIP)

4.1

4 4 3 4 0

0

Dante Cano (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.333 WHIP)

3.0

0 0 0 6 4

0

Walker Piland (0-0, 14.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP)

1.0

1 2 2 2 1

1

Grayson Bearden (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP)

1.0

0 1 1 0 1

0

Totals

45.0 30 15 10 52 21 1

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