Author: Daniel Youngblood

DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Region I-3A playoff race huge loss for this baseball junkie

Those who know me well know that I’m a “baseball guy” at heart.

I love football and basketball, but baseball’s my sport. It’s the one I played the longest and the one I follow most diligently now.

As a sportswriter, I enjoy covering all sports, but come springtime, there’s one I look forward to more than any other. And the baseball playoffs, in particular, have always held a special place in my heart.

So I had little trouble empathizing with our area players and coaches about the premature ending of the 2020 season as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. I was almost as heartbroken as they were when the University Interscholastic League pulled the plug on the season just a few weeks in.

There were so many things I was looking forward to watching and never got to see play out. And perhaps nothing climbed higher on that list than a Region I-3A playoff race that was shaping up to be one for the ages.

Continue reading “DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Region I-3A playoff race huge loss for this baseball junkie”

BCP Podcast No. 96: San Saba’s Andreas Aguirre discusses first year as AD, COVID chaos

Andreas Aguirre’s first year as San Saba’s head football coach and athletic director was a successful one by any measure. The Armadillo football team had another excellent campaign, and the basketball team made its first state tournament appearance in almost a century.

But the COVID-19 pandemic made for an abrupt finish to the 2019-20 school year and presented some new challenges for the former SSHS defensive coordinator. On Tuesday, Aguirre joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast to discuss those challenges and how he’s handling the COVID-19 shutdown.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Hamlin baseball keeping positive outlook despite shortened season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After watching a young team take a nice step forward last spring, Hamlin baseball coach Ryne Lucas had the 2020 season circled as the year his Pied Pipers would finally break through as a district title contender.

And with HHS sporting a top-10 ranking in Class 1A from txhighschoolbaseball.com at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, it wasn’t just those within the Hamlin city limits that felt bullish about this year’s Pipers.

Unfortunately, Hamlin’s season was cut short by the global pandemic just six games in. But Lucas saw enough during that 3-3 start to believe that the 2020 campaign — truncated though it may have been — could still go down as a positive turning point for his program.

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DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Seniors’ response to COVID-19 shutdown one we all could learn from

The 2019-20 school year is officially over, and a new crop of seniors will soon be ushered into the “real world.”

In that way — and that way only — this year is like most before it. 

But anyone who’s been conscious the past three months knows this is not a normal year. The COVID-19 outbreak has made sure of that, impacting lives worldwide and, on a local level, stripping this graduation class of the pomp and circumstance typically reserved for graduating seniors.

While the virus itself has hit certain age groups harder than others, the effects of this global pandemic have spared no demographic. And among those most impacted in the Big Country have been the aforementioned seniors, who have not only lost their spring sport seasons (and had their athletic careers ended prematurely, in many cases) but have also lost many of the rights of passage and memories many associate with their final year of high school.

But if you think it’s all negative or just need some hope for the future, I would encourage you to check out our What Might Have Been feature series. Because revealed in these stories of the area players and teams most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown is a maturity that makes this group as well equipped as any I’ve seen to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead.

Continue reading “DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Seniors’ response to COVID-19 shutdown one we all could learn from”

BCP Podcast No. 95: Breckenridge baseball coach Kevin Bartley joins Evan, Daniel

Breckenridge baseball coach Kevin Bartley had what may have been the best team in school history this season, but he and the Buckaroo faithful will never get to find out for sure thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown.

On Tuesday, Bartley took some time to chat with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood about this team, what he felt it was capable of and what he told his 10 seniors when the UIL’s spring sport cancellation ended their careers prematurely for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: AHS star Washington left quite an impression on coach, program

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Abilene High softball coach Jim Reese considers shortstop Alyssa Washington a once-in-a-career type player. 

And with a multi-decade coaching tenure that started on the baseball diamond and included a stretch with longtime major leaguer John Lackey, that’s no faint praise.

So to watch the future Texas Longhorn see her time at Abilene High cut short in the midst of a truly remarkable senior campaign was one of the tougher things Reese has had to do as a coach. And though he’s happy that Washington will get to continue her career in Austin and certain she’ll find success at the next level, he can’t help but wonder what the standout might have accomplished had her season not been derailed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Jim Ned Indians look ahead to brighter future

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

With the way his team was playing at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, Jim Ned baseball coach Ryan Lewis has every right be disappointed by the the abrupt and premature end to the Indians’ 2020 season.

Holding a 6-2 record with close losses to top-10 teams from Breckenridge (5-4) and Wall (5-3), Jim Ned was well on its way to building on the 20-10 mark and area-round playoff finish it achieved in 2019.

But rather than let that fact push him toward bitterness, Lewis has chosen to take a different — and perhaps surprising — posture. One of gratitude.

With no seniors on this year’s roster, the former Abilene High baseball coach was spared the types of heart-wrenching conversations many of his coaching friends have had to have with their veteran players. And though the Indians will never know just how good they might have been had this season continued uninterrupted, the horizon before them is every bit as bright as the one coronavirus put in the rearview.

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BCP Podcast No. 94: First-year Snyder AD Wes Wood joins Evan, Daniel

Wes Wood has had en eventful and unusual first year as Snyder’s head football coach and athletic director.  After overcoming an 0-4 start to lead the Tigers to the playoffs in the fall, he’s seen the spring sport season abruptly ended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Wood took a few minutes to chat with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood about what he’s learned and how he’s approaching this unique period for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Standouts Buck, Philipp leave lasting mark on Wylie softball program

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After leading the Wylie softball team on a memorable ride to the Region I-5A semifinals a year ago as juniors, standouts Bailey Buck and Kaylee Philipp had big things planned for their final high school season.

And with their team sporting a 14-3 record and a top-20 statewide ranking in mid-March, they were well on their way to achieving those when the COVID-19 outbreak put an early end to their senior year.

Now the pair, who are part of a six-player senior class that was instrumental in making the Lady Bulldogs’ transition to Class 5A a successful one, can only imagine how this season might have turned out had it not been cut short by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

And their coach, Heather Collier, can’t help but be disappointed that two players who were so important to her program won’t get to finish their stellar careers in fitting fashion.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Cooper seniors miss out on home game experience, chance at turnaround

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Sitting at 2-9 on March 10 after a 6-1 loss to Wichita Falls High in its district opener, the Cooper baseball team was off to a slower start than it was hoping for when play was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

But with the start of the Abilene ISD Tournament — and the Cougars’ first opportunity to play on their newly renovated home field — slated for March 12, there was a shared sense of optimism among coach Cody Salyers and his players.

The Coogs, who have typically finished stronger than they’ve started under Salyers, had all of their biggest games and goals ahead of them. And the chance to become the first CHS team to play its home games under lights and on a turf field had them riding a wave of excitement into the meat of their schedule.

Unfortunately for Salyers’ squad, that chance never came. And thanks to the global pandemic that forced the University Interscholastic League to suspend and later cancel all spring sporting events, it never will for the team’s five seniors.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Wall softball was hitting stride when season was halted

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Jen Kleman

It’s not how you start, but how you finish. 

While the Wall softball team will never know how 2020 would have played out, the progress made before its season was halted certainly had everyone optimistic.

Healthier than they’d been all year, the Lady Hawks captured district victories over San Angelo TLCA and Brady when the coronavirus shut down their momentum. Officially, Wall finished with a 6-13 record, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

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BCP Podcast No. 93: Evan, Daniel catch up with Hamlin AD Russell Lucas

Hamlin football coach/athletic director Russell Lucas has had one interesting year, leading the Pied Pipers to their first state championship game appearance before seeing the COVID-19 pandemic end the 2019-20 athletic year prematurely. 

On Tuesday, he joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood to discuss his experiences and his approach to the coronavirus shutdown for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Experienced Bulldogs had high hopes for district

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Linda Moody 

Sitting at 7-1-1 when this season was stopped by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Coahoma baseball team’s record was almost identical to the 6-2-1 mark the Bulldogs had posted in nondistrict play the year before.

But first-year head coach Chris Arista and his players were convinced this group was different from the 2019 squad that closed its campaign with a 3-9 run through District 5-3A.

With nine seniors on its 17-player roster, Coahoma was the most experienced team in a league that also featured Clyde, Jim Ned, Anson and Merkel. And as such, the Bulldogs were determined to take a step forward after losing out to Merkel for the fourth playoff spot last spring.

Unfortunately, due to the University Scholastic League’s April 17 decision to cancel all spring sports, they never got that opportunity. And while Arista firmly believes his team was destined for success, he’ll never quite know just how things might have played out under different circumstances.   

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Bearcats never got to enjoy fruits of tough pre-district schedule

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Madisyn Stone

Judging solely by its record, it would be easy to underestimate the potential the De Leon baseball team possessed in 2020.

Sitting at 3-5 when the COVID-19 outbreak stopped their season in its tracks, the Bearcats hardly had the type of win-loss mark you’d expect from a two-time defending district champion that was gearing up for a run at its third in a row.

But records can be deceiving, and that was certainly the case for De Leon, which had played six of its first eight games against larger competition in preparation for its District 6-2A schedule. With pre-district matchups against Class 4A playoff teams from China Spring and Glen Rose, as well as Class 3A No. 1 Brock, the Bearcats were put through a ringer that first-year head coach Ricky Barrett was certain would pay off in time.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Sans seniors, No. 1 Brock baseball was still state threat

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

During a time when most coaches throughout the area, state and country are having to wish premature farewells to the seniors on their rosters, Brock’s Hart Hering is thankful to have dodged that most painful of bullets.

The only senior slated to return for the Eagles’ 2020 baseball team, pitcher/utility man Caleb Satterfield, transferred to Pecos for the spring, leaving Hering with a squad full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

But if you think that made it any easier to step away from the 8-1-1 start that had garnered Brock the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A from Txhighschoolbaseball.com, you would be mistaken. Ever the competitor, Hering was looking forward to putting his young bunch up against senior-led state hopefuls from Bushland (No. 2), Breckenridge (No. 3) and Wall (No. 7), and he shared those teams’ pain when the University Interscholastic League announced it would be canceling all spring sports in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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BCP Podcast No. 92: Haskell AD Brian Hodnett brings positive outlook during uncertain time

When he arrived at Haskell before the 2017-18 school year, Brian Hodnett brought a positive, high-energy style that has served him well as the Indians’ football coach and athletic director.

On Tuesday, he brought those same qualities to a discussion with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Loaded Ira Bulldogs felt this was their year

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

When you’ve been in coaching as long as Toby Goodwin has, you know what an elite team looks like. 

So when the Ira coach says this year’s Bulldogs had a baseball state tournament appearance in their sights, he’s not just blowing smoke.

Unfortunately, neither he, his players or the Ira community will ever get a chance to find out just how good this year’s squad was. And instead of being remembered as the group that finally broke through for an Ira program that has been knocking at the door for years, the 2020 Bulldogs will be the one that (only) COVID-19 took down.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Baseball in the blood for Rotan’s Van Poppel

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Trish Hurt, Double Mountain Chronicle

With the last name he has, Cole Van Poppel was almost destined to end up on a pitcher’s mound.

For the Rotan senior and nephew of former major-leaguer Todd Van Poppel, baseball — and pitching, in particular — runs in the blood.

So to say it was tough to have his final high school season — and final opportunity to lead the Yellowhammers to the playoffs — cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak and the University Interscholastic League’s subsequent decision to cancel the 2020 spring sports season, is a fairly sizable understatement.

And though the opportunity to continue his career at Temple College and memory of pitching a perfect game in his final high school start serve as some consolation, part of him will always be left to wonder what might have been.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Merkel Badgers see progress halted by COVID-19

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Unlike many of the teams asking themselves, “What might have been?” after the University Interscholastic League’s decision to cancel the remainder of the spring sports season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Merkel baseball squad will feature a very similar roster when play returns next year.

The Badgers lose just one senior, outfielder Hunter Barnes, from this year’s group, which was off to an 7-2-1 start when play was halted.

But for a program on the rise, that was hoping to build on last year’s 9-14 record and bi-district playoff appearance, the effects of this stoppage will still be felt in a major way. Instead of getting to use the District 5-3A season to show how much they’ve grown and the playoffs to take the next step in their development, the Badgers will be spending their spring and summer at home, hoping the lost time won’t have cost them too much when they finally get back on the field next year.

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BCP Podcast No. 91: Winters AD Matt McCarty chats with Evan, Daniel

Winters football coach and athletic director Matt McCarty has worked hard the past few years to build the Blizzards football team and WHS athletic program as a whole into a Big Country contender.

On Tuesday, he joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast to talk about how he’s handling the COVID-19 shutdown and how this global pandemic has impacted his athletes and his program. 

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Haskell coach, son have final baseball season together cut short

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

When Kevin Compton took the head baseball coach position in Haskell four years ago, it was for one specific purpose: to coach his son Koby through high school.

Kevin had been coaching in Waco before that, and moving to Haskell would give him an opportunity to get closer to his son both literally and figuratively.

So to see that experience — and his son’s senior season — cut short by the COVID-19 crisis has brought an extra wave of emotions for the father and son in addition to those felt as coach and player. And now that the 2020 season has officially been canceled by the University Interscholastic League, a decision that came down on Friday, both Kevin and Koby are having to come to grips with the fact that their time in matching uniforms is over. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 shutdown adds to whirlwind school year for Wylie’s Martin

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

When taking on a new job with new responsibilities, it’s natural to expect the unexpected.

But new Wylie football coach and athletic director Clay Martin couldn’t have possibly imagined how his first few months on the job would go.

Hired to replace his longtime boss Hugh Sandifer on Jan. 31, Martin saw his crash course in athletic directing come to a grinding halt in March, when the University Interscholastic League first announced that all spring sports action would be suspended as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. That suspension became a cancellation on Friday, effectively ending the spring athletic season and capping a whirlwind school year for Martin.

Instead of holding his first spring football workouts and supporting Wylie’s spring sport coaches and athletes through their seasons, Martin now finds himself in the same situation everyone else does these days — in coronavirus limbo.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Brady sprinter, netter Marshall takes tough news in stride

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Marshall

Few athletes in the Big Country Preps coverage area had loftier goals for the 2020 spring season than Brady senior Jack Marshall.

A three-event state track meet qualifier and two-time boys singles state champion on the tennis court, Marshall was hoping to end his high school athletic career with a little more gold in his already well-stocked trophy case.

Unfortunately for the future Abilene Christian University sprinter, those hopes were officially dashed on Friday, when the University Interscholastic League announced that all spring activities and state championships would be canceled as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But his response to that news — and the shutdown that preceded it — might surprise you given all he’s lost. 

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BCP Podcast No. 90: Gordon’s Reed joins Evan and Daniel for second time

Mike Reed is not just one of the most successful six-man coaches in the state. He’s also one of the thoughtful and inspirational leaders in the Big Country.

On Tuesday, Reed joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood to share his thoughts and perspective on the COVID-19 shutdown and what can be learned from it for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 shutdown just latest challenge for AHS ace Salazar

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

While she had been on varsity since she was a freshman and was good enough last year to earn All-Big Country Preps honors as a third baseman, Abilene High senior Aubrianna Salazar considered this to be her year.

Standout pitcher Kaylen Washington, who had led the Lady Eagles to the Region I-6A quarterfinals in 2018 and an undefeated run through District 3-6A in 2019, graduated last spring, handing Salazar the staff ace title in addition to her existing roles at the hot corner and in the middle of the Lady Eagles batting order.

The future Hardin-Simmons Cowgirl had reached her senior year, and it was her time to shine.

But after having her final high school season staggered by a knee injury scare in the offseason and a foot injury that cost her eight games from late February to early March, Salazar could do little but sigh when it was a global pandemic that may have finally landed the knockout blow to her AHS career.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Clyde’s Deal hoping for chance to end career in fitting fashion

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Clyde senior Christian Deal had been working for this moment his entire career.

After spending his first two years on varsity as a super utility player, the do-it-all standout had finally found himself anchored at his two most natural positions as the Bulldogs’ starting shortstop and de facto pitching ace.

But despite excelling in both roles during a start coach Colby Rowley described as “phenomenal,” Deal has seen what should have been a dream season cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak that now threatens the spring sports season for all Texas athletes. Instead of backing up last year’s all-state season with an even stronger senior campaign, Deal has no choice but to wait out a state-mandated shutdown at home and wonder if his days as a baseball player are over.

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BCP Podcast No. 89: Albany’s David Fairchild talks COVID-19 shutdown with Evan, Daniel

After leading his team to state tournament appearances in 2017 and 2019, Albany baseball coach David Fairchild may have had his best squad yet this season. But after starting 7-0, the second-ranked Lions had their season shut down by the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Tuesday, Fairchild joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast to talk about this year’s team, how he’s handling the COVID-19 shutdown and what he’s hoping will happen over the next couple of months. 

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Co-aces West, Neve had Albany poised for state tournament return

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After leading the Albany baseball program to its second state tournament appearance in a three-year span last season, Lions coach David Fairchild didn’t have to squint too hard to envision a similar run this spring.

The 27-year coaching veteran had graduated just three seniors from last year’s 23-8 squad and was returning a pair of pitching aces in senior Ben West and junior Cade Neve.

Those realities — and the 7-0 start to which they heavily contributed — have only made things more difficult for Fairchild and his Lions since their season was halted in its tracks by the COVID-19 outbreak and the University Interscholastic League’s related decision to suspend all sanctioned activities in mid March.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Wall baseball’s title defense put on hold

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What might have been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Coming off its first state championship in program history, the Wall baseball team entered this season eager to defend its title.

With eight key seniors graduating off that 39-1 squad, a repeat run through the Class 3A bracket would not be easy, but the Hawks returned a pair of all-state pitchers in Caleb Heuertz and Luke Young and viewed this as more of a reloading job than a rebuild.

Sitting at 9-3-1 on March 12 with the start of District 4-3A play on the horizon, everything was going according to plan for coach Jason Schniers and his players — until, that is, the COVID-19 outbreak and University Interscholastic League’s subsequent shutdown intervened.

In a matter of days, the Hawks went from gearing up for the district season and another strong playoff push to wondering if they’d get to take the field again at all in 2020. And three weeks later, with school suspended indefinitely and the players and coaches separated, little has changed to ease their uncertainty.

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BCP Podcast No. 88: BCP calls on Dublin coach Bob Cervetto to provide coronavirus pep talk

Throughout his career, Dublin football coach and athletic director Bob Cervetto has earned a reputation as one of the most positive and inspiring coaches in the state.

On Tuesday, Cervetto joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast to offer some of that patented positivity and inspiration during these uncertain times brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

All-Big Country Preps Boys Basketball Superlatives: Brewer, Medina, Lenard head of 2020 class

Here are our superlative award winners for the 2020 All-Big Country Preps boys basketball team. For the rest of this year’s selections, click the links below.

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2020 All-Big Country Preps Boys Basketball Team: First-Team Roster

Here are our first-team selections for the 2020 All-Big Country Preps boys basketball team. For the rest of this year’s boys and girls basketball selections, click the links below.

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2020 All-Big Country Preps Boys Basketball Team: Second-Team Roster

Here are our second-team selections for the 2020 All-Big Country Preps boys basketball team. For the rest of this year’s boys and girls basketball selections, click the links below.

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2020 All-Big Country Preps Boys Basketball Team: Third-Team Roster (w/ honorable mention)

Here are our third-team selections for the 2020 All-Big Country Preps boys basketball team. For the rest of this year’s boys and girls basketball selections, click the links below.

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FEATURE: Senior-led AHS, Wylie softball teams still hoping to finish what they’ve started

In a way, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis has put everyone on equal footing. Life has effectively been put on hold for adults and students alike, and the only certainty for either group is uncertainty.

This reality has hit close to home for veteran coaches Heather Collier and Jim Reese, whose Wylie Lady Bulldogs and Abilene High Lady Eagles have, in less than two weeks, gone from district title hopefuls to just hoping for a chance to take the field again in 2010.

Like all softball teams in the state of Texas, Wylie and Abilene High are in a holding pattern, adhering to the University Interscholastic League’s suspension of all sanctioned sports, which was extended from March 29 to May 4 on Thursday. But with senior-led teams that were off to outstanding starts, the waiting game’s a little extra painful for Collier and Reese.

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BCP Podcast No. 86: Brandon McAuliffe joins Daniel to discuss coronavirus impact on state hoops, spring sports

With Evan Ren at home recovering from a bout with pneumonia and a week-long hospital stay, Big Country Preps contributor Brandon McAuliffe joins Daniel Youngblood for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

In this episode, Daniel and Brandon discuss the massive impact the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak has had on the Big Country sports scene and country at large. 

DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Uncertainty hits home amid coronavirus response

A week ago Monday, my partner Evan Ren and I were sitting down to do interviews with Jayton’s Ryan Bleiker and San Saba’s Mark Kyle for our weekly podcast.

Evan was planning his trip to San Antonio to cover those men’s teams at the University Interscholastic League’s boys basketball state championships, and I was prepping for a baseball tournament that was scheduled to be held here in Abilene over the weekend.

As it turned out, neither of us would reach our destination.

Instead, Evan was hospitalized Tuesday for a case of pneumonia that would put him on the shelf for a week, and most of what I was planning to cover in his stead was canceled or postponed amid growing concern over the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

What a difference a week makes.

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FEATURE: San Saba boys basketball in state limbo amid COVID-19 crisis

Making its first state tournament appearance since 1928, the San Saba boys basketball team was hoping to make a little history this weekend in San Antonio.

This wasn’t the kind of history the Armadillos had in mind.

Coach Mark Kyle’s squad was one of 16 teams across four of Texas’ six public school classifications to have its state semifinal game suspended by the University Scholastic League on Thursday as a result of growing concern over the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

So instead of hitting the Alamodome court on Friday against top-ranked and undefeated Martin’s Mill, the Dillos were hitting the road back home, uncertain if they’d ever get to punctuate one of the greatest seasons in program history.

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STATE RECAP: Jayton boys fall to Slidell in 1A semis; competition suspended over coronavirus concerns

SAN ANTONIO — Jayton’s season didn’t end the way the No. 8 Jaybirds wanted it to Thursday morning, but at least the JHS boys basketball team got to take the court at the Alamodome.

Coach Ryan Bleiker’s squad fell 45-28 to No. 5 Slidell in the second of two Class 1A state semifinal games — one of just four contests completed before the University Interscholastic League suspended action on the 2020 boys basketball state tournament as a response to concern over the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

That means that San Saba’s Class 2A semifinal against top-ranked Martin’s Mill, originally slated for 8:30 a.m. Friday, will not be played as scheduled, if completed at all.

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FEATURE: Multi-sport experience, success at heart Jayton’s confidence, poise

Between the No. 1 ranking they held for most of the 2019 football season and the target that comes with being a defending state runner-up in basketball, the Jayton Jaybirds have played more pressure-packed games this school year than some programs do in a decade. 

But when you’ve been as successful as the JHS athletic program has been in recent years, you grow accustomed to the big stage.

So if coach Ryan Bleiker’s Jaybirds don’t seem as nervous as they should heading into their second consecutive appearance at the Class 1A boys basketball state tournament in San Antonio, you’ll have to excuse them. This group of Jayton athletes has been groomed for moments such as these.

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BCP Podcast No. 85: Jayton’s Bleiker, San Saba’s Kyle talk state hoops with Evan, Daniel

Jayton boys basketball coach Ryan Bleiker has led the Jaybirds to their second state tournament appearance in as many years. San Saba’s Mark Kyle has led the Armadillos to their first state trip since 1928.

Earlier this week, both men took a few minutes to chat with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood about the challenge their teams face for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

Also in this episode, Evan and Daniel recap last week’s boys basketball regionals.

BOYS BASKETBALL STATE PREVIEW: San Saba looks to continue dream season against unbeaten Martin’s Mill

It’s been 92 years since San Saba last played in a boys basketball state tournament, and few expected coach Mark Kyle’s Armadillos to do so this year.

But after completing a remarkable and unexpected run through Region IV-2A, the Dillos are hoping to add a few more memories to what’s already been an unforgettable campaign.

Standing between them and a potential state championship is a semifinal matchup with undefeated Martin’s Mill (39-0) at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. And though they enter that game as heavy underdogs, the San Saba boys are excited for yet another opportunity to prove people wrong.

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BOYS BASKETBALL STATE PREVIEW: No. 8 Jayton prepped for state rematch with defending champ Slidell

After making their first state tournament appearance last March and coming within a single win of their first state title, the Jayton Jaybirds will have a chance to finish the job this year.

But fresh off a grueling run through the Region II-1A bracket, JHS will face another stiff test in their 2020 state opener. Standing between the No. 8 Jaybirds and the Class 1A crown is a semifinal matchup with the defending state champion and fifth-ranked Slidell Greyhounds — a team with which coach Ryan Bleiker and his players are quite familiar.

It was Slidell that ended Jayton’s championship hopes last year, defeating the Jaybirds 49-36 in the 2019 title game. Bleiker and Co. are intent on reversing that outcome when the teams meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, but the coach knows that won’t be easy.

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LOCAL BASEBALL ROUNDUP: Wylie, Cooper fall to open league play

ALEDO — The Wylie baseball team opened District 4-5A play with a tough 3-2 road loss to Aledo, seeing 2-0 lead evaporate over the final four innings.

The Bulldogs scored single runs in the first and third innings to go up early, but the Bearcats trimmed the lead to one run in the fourth before completing the rally with a two-run sixth.

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LOCAL SOFTBALL ROUNDUP: Cooper routs Wichita Falls to open district, AHS wins again

WICHITA FALLS — The Cooper softball team opened District 4-5A play in dominant fashion Tuesday, routing Wichita Falls High 12-2 in five innings to improve to 8-4 on the season.

With the game tied at 2 after one inning, the Lady Cougars exploded for four runs in the second inning and five in the third before putting the run-rule into effect with one in the top of the fifth.

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BIG COUNTRY PREPS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Multi-talented AHS star Roberson takes top spot

Abilene High junior Trakenya (KK) Roberson is probably best known for her work on the basketball court, where she’s been weaving through defenses for one layup after another since she was a freshman. 

But this speedy standout’s skills aren’t confined to the hardwood. She’s also an excellent softball player where she serves as a starting outfielder and leadoff hitter for the 15-4 Lady Eagles.

Last week, she put her many talents on display in leading AHS to four wins in six games, earning Big Country Preps Player of the Week honors in the process. 

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GAME RECAP: San Saba tops Normangee, earns first trip to state tournament

SAN MARCOS — The San Saba Armadillos are headed to the state tournament in boys basketball for the first time in school history.

Less than 24 hours after getting a late steal and bucket to pull off a 55-54 win over Weimar in the Region IV-2A semifinals, the Armadillos downed Normangee 49-35 to claim their first region title and earn a trip to San Antonio next week for the Class 2A state tournament.

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