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Instead of assuming a deep playoff run with a veteran team that dropped from Class 3A to 2A prior to this season, Anson Tigers’ head coach Scotty Nichols talks about the lessons his young players learned competing in the larger classification.
Anson advanced to the second round of Class 3A playoffs in 2019 with a young team. The Tigers were anticipating an even deeper playoff run in 3A last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic stopped Texas high school sports in mid-March.
“We enjoyed our time in 3A competing against teams like Jim Ned,” Nichols said. “We learned some things in 3A. We were put into some tough situations, and we learned how to compete. It taught us a lot about ourselves and staying the course and showing perseverance.”
In the latest UIL realignment prior to the 2020-2021 school year, Anson dropped to Class 2A. Armed with 12 seniors and juniors — most
of them in their third year on the varsity — the Tigers are now priming themselves for a long playoff run in 2A.
But Nichols knows it won’t be easy. Despite a No. 1 statewide ranking in 2A entering last week’s District 8-2A game against Albany, the No. 11-ranked Lions toppled the Tigers 7-5.
“We were excited to drop to 2A, but this area, the Big Country, is really tough in 2A. It knew it would be,” Nichols said. “We’re getting better and better. We want to secure our spot in the playoffs and hopefully have a long run. But we know it’ll be a battle.”
Despite the loss to Albany, rebounded with a 13-1 win Friday over Hawley. The Tigers were 15-4 overall and 3-1 in District 8-2A as this week began. They have a wealth of experience, starting with junior Trevor Miller, the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher with a 5-0 record, a 1.36 earned run average and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Senior Isaac Brann, who’s coming off an ACL knee injury in football last fall, has 30 strikeouts in 17.2 innings and a 2-2 record. Junior Riley Pippin has a 2-0 record with 16.1 innings pitched.
Sophomore Nick Miller, junior Dylyn Pyle and junior Max Hagler have combined for 39.1 innings pitched and a 5-0 record. Nick Miller has 18 strikeouts in 13 innings, Pyle has a 1.57 ERA, and Hagler has a 0.00 ERA.
Wyatt Goodwin, Blake Vinson, Tyler Wilburn and Mason Hagler also have pitched this season for the Tigers, who have a 1.78 team ERA.
“There are five guys we pitch on a regular basis, but we’ve got nine guys that can throw if we need them,” Nichols said. “They’re not super hard throwers, but they’re able to throw strikes.”
For all his players’ gaudy offensive statistics, Nichols said defense is his team’s biggest asset. Catcher Wyatt Fladager has a .986 fielding percentage while handling the ball on almost every play. Pippin has a .963 fielding percentage, Mason Hagler a .942 and a Vinson a .929.
“We had a couple of hiccups against Albany last week. They got some runners on base and put some pressure on us,” Nichols said. “But overall this season, our defense has kept us in a lot of games. We hang our hat on our defense, and we’re fortunate to do that.”
Offensively, Trevor Miller, who plays in the outfield when he’s not pitching, leads Anson in multiple categories — including batting average at .472, runs scored with 24 and runs batted in with 28. Nick Miller, Trevor’s sophomore brother, is batting .351 with 24 runs and nine stolen bases. Fladager is batting .354 with nine doubles and 16 RBIs.
In addition to his pitching and fielding, Pippin has two home runs and 17 RBIs. Junior designated hitter Riley Elrod has a .389 batting average while Vinson, who plays second base when he’s not pitching, is batting .333 with seven stolen bases.
Pyle has a .448 on base percentage to go with 21 runs and 12 stolen bases. Junior first baseman Mason Hagler is batting .333 with 17 RBIs and 16 runs. He also has reached base 17 times on walks and being hit by pitches. Julian Garcia has been Anson’s No. 1 courtesy runner for three years and has speed plus a knack for running the bases.
“We’re excited to be playing after the COVID deal last year,” Nichols said. “It had been a whole year since we had played a game. In our first few games, I’d go out on the field and feel like I was forgetting something. It felt new all over again.”