Author: Mike Lee, Special to Big Country Preps

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: For Brock’s Tonips and Kizer, more than a game has been taken away

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

Kelsi Tonips missed much of last season and part of this season with a separated shoulder. Then just as the Brock senior third baseman and pitcher was working her way back into the lineup, the 2020 softball season was suspended indefinitely by the UIL because of the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.

The earliest athletic contests can return is May 4. The spring sports seasons may not restart at all.

“Softball is not just a game for me. It’s a big part of my life that was taken away abruptly,” said Tonips, who has played since she was 6 years old.

At least Tonips, who signed to play collegiately with Tyler Junior College, plans to play softball again. Lauren Kizer, a Brock senior pitcher and outfielder, plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in public health. This was going to be her final season of competitive softball.

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FEATURE: Rotan softball still hoping for a chance to make it to state

Photos courtesy of Greg Decker

The Rotan softball team began the 2020 season looking to complete some unfinished business from last year. Now, the Lady Hammers are just hoping to have a 2020 season.

Rotan was one win away from advancing to the UIL Class 1A state tournament last season, but two one-run losses to Borden County left the Lady Hammers wanting a chance to finish the job this year. They even beat Borden County 7-2 during a tournament earlier this season.

But the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, stopped high school sports in Texas — along with a lot of other normal activities — after the first day of Rotan’s softball tournament March 12-14. Now the UIL has said the earliest high school sports could return is May 4, and some are wondering if it’s even possible to resume spring sports at all after losing seven weeks.

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FEATURE: De Leon’s Powledge makes first start, prepping for full mound return

Photos by Madisyn Stone

Even before De Leon pitcher Lane Powledge began putting up gaudy statistics last season, teammate Kevin Yeager knew what was possible.

Yeager — a De Leon senior last year and the school’s best all-around athlete be it in football, basketball, golf or baseball — was set to be the Bearcats’ No. 1 pitcher in 2019. But once he saw how well Powledge, then an unknown sophomore, was throwing, Yeager made a profound statement.

“You’ve got to realize that Kevin (now a college quarterback) was a special athlete. He was in his senior year and ready to be our No. 1 pitcher,” said De Leon head baseball coach Ricky Barrett, the Bearcats’ assistant coach last year.

“Kevin told us we had something special in Lane. He said, ‘Man, Lane is throwing really well. Put me at shortstop and make Lane the No. 1 pitcher, and we can compete with anybody.’”

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FEATURE: Albany’s Hebel picks up where she left off before ACL injury

Photos by Rose Hebel

Albany softball player Elia Hebel has returned and is reportedly as strong as ever after missing the entire 2019 season because of an ACL injury, surgery and six-month rehabilitation process.

She slugged eight hits in nine official at-bats, plus four intentional walks, last weekend while leading the Class 2A Lady Lions to a runner-up finish in the Stephenville Honeybee Classic, which was filled with Class 3A and 4A teams. Veteran Albany coach Jimmy Fuentes said Hebel is batting around .600 during the Lady Lions’ 6-3 start this season.

Also last fall, the 5-foot-10 Hebel committed to play NCAA Division I softball at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — even though she’s still a junior at Albany High School.

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FEATURE: Gorman softball rebuilds, but the goals don’t change

The Gorman softball team won’t have to carry the burden of an undefeated record into the playoffs this season. The Lady Panthers lost three of four games in last weekend’s season-opening tournament in Abilene.

Gorman won its first 26 games last season before falling to Dodd City in the Region II-1A championship game. It marked the second time in three years for Gorman to fall to Dodd City in the game that determined which team qualified for the UIL Class 1A state tournament.

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FEATURE: Marc Case — A Basketball Love Story … Former McMurry player, Cooper coach has Clyde in playoffs

Marc Case is at it again, taking over a high school basketball team in urgent need of a coach and turning it into a winner.

This time it’s at Clyde — the second season of his second stint as the Bulldogs’ head coach. The passionate, fiery, old-school fundamentals coach who began his career in the 1970s has guided the Bulldogs back into the playoffs with a 19-14 record. Clyde will face Early (also 19-14) in a Class 3A boys’ bidistrict game at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Brownwood Coliseum.

“I always loved playing in the Coliseum,” the seemingly ageless 68-year-old Case said the other day. “I know it’s only five miles for Early to travel and 70 miles for us, but it’s a great place to play with a great atmosphere.”

Some might suggest Tuesday’s game will bring Case’s basketball career full circle, considering he played multiple times in Brownwood Coliseum from 1969-1973 as a McMurry guard going against the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets when both colleges were Lone Star Conference members.

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FEATURE: Stilwell tops 1,500 points for playoff-bound Stephenville

There’s a simple explanation why Skylar Stilwell has topped 1,500 career points as a Stephenville High School senior.

“He loves basketball,” Stephenville coach Bill Brooks said of his third-year starter. “He’s what you call a gym rat. He’s in the gym every day of the offseason and the summer working on his shot. He’s constantly trying to be the best player he can be.

“It’s a big deal when a high school player scores 1,000 points in his career. Skylar passed 1,000 points in one of our last games last year when he was a junior. He has more than 1,500 points now.”

To put 1,500 points in perspective, a player must average 16.6 points per game for three seasons consisting of 30 games each. Stilwell averaged 13 points per game as a sophomore and 17 points per game as a junior last season.

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FEATURE: Westbrook ends 19-year outright district title drought

NOTE: Photos courtesy of Gary Matlock, Sandy Sheets and Kaci Rainbolt

Jake Diggs had to Google the town of Westbrook when was graduating from Texas Tech and looking for a coaching job seven years ago. A native of White Deer in the Texas Panhandle, Diggs was pleased to learn it was only a couple of hours south of Lubbock.

Now in his sixth year as head coach, the 30-year-old Diggs has guided the Class 1A Westbrook High School Wildcats to their first outright district championship in boys’ basketball in 19 years. The Wildcats earned a district co-championship in 2005-2006, but their last outright title came in 2001.

“When I came here, I was a 24-year-old kid and thought I knew it all,” Diggs said. “Winning district has been kind of a relief. It gives you the feeling that what you have been doing is working — that the hard work is starting to pay off.

“We’ve missed the playoffs by one place the last three years. So it’s nice to not only get into the playoffs, but also to do it as the district champs.”

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FEATURE: Thompson a welcome addition to Brownwood girls’ basketball

A family situation brought unknown girls’ basketball talent Matyha Thompson from Nacogdoches to Brownwood prior to the 2018-2019 season. With the 2019-2020 season entering the playoffs this week, Thompson has worked her way onto a short list of the top players in the Big Country.

The 5-foot-10 senior leads the Lady Lions in scoring at 18.8 points per game, rebounding at 5.5 per game, steals with 67 for the season, blocked shots with 27 and field-goal shooting at 49 percent.

Brownwood, 19-12 and the runner-up in District 7-4A, will play Decatur, 27-6 and the No. 3 seed from District 8-4A, in a bidistrict game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Breckenridge.

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FEATURE: Stamford girls have won 22 games with extremely young lineup

Coaching or following a sports team that is talented but still young can feel like a double-edged sword. Or taste sweet and sour at the same time. Or look beautifully in sync one minute and completely chaotic the next.

There are a lot more successes than failures, but the losses are tough because the team is working its way through growing pains.

The Stamford Lady Bulldogs were 22-7 overall and 7-2 in District 8-2A games through last week. Despite starting four sophomores and one freshman, they have secured a solid No. 2 seeding for the upcoming Class 2A playoffs behind perennial power Haskell, 27-3 and ranked No. 8 in the state.

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FEATURE: Versatile forward Lenard does it all for Snyder

The Texas weather that dumped 12 inches of snow on Snyder last week and postponed the District 5-4A boys basketball showdown against Midland Greenwood until Saturday may be unpredictable. But the performance of Snyder senior Teafale Lenard is always consistent regardless of the weather.

Known simply as “T” around his hometown, the 6-foot-6 Lenard leads the Tigers in scoring at 15 points per game, steals at 2.5 per game and blocked shots at 2.3. He ranks second on the team in rebounds at 4.6 per game and assists at 2.7.

Lenard scored 11 points Saturday as defending district champion Snyder avenged an earlier district loss to Greenwood, 53-44. Both teams are 5-1 in district with two games remaining and could be headed toward a seeding game for the upcoming playoffs.

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FEATURE: Goldthwaite leans on seniors during another 20-win season

How are the Goldthwaite Lady Eagles putting up another 20-win basketball season without a scorer averaging in double figures? With experience, defense and rebounding.

Goldthwaite, ranked No. 16 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 2A poll, was 23-5 overall and 4-1 in District 10-2A through last week’s games. The district loss was 37-30 to No. 15 Santo.

Despite the 23 wins, the Lady Eagles’ leading scorer is senior guard Callie Jernigan at a modest 9.3 points per game. Post Macy Seward is averaging 7.8 points, and forward Kylee Medina is averaging 7.2.

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FEATURE: Brownwood on verge of having three 1,000-point scorers

Prior to this season, Nadir Dalleh had never coached even one player who scored 1,000 points during his basketball career. He’s now on the verge of having three 1,000-point scorers on the same team as head coach of the Brownwood Lions.

Center Zach Strong and guard Adonis (A.J.) McCarty already have surpassed the 1,000-point mark for their Brownwood High School careers. Guard John Wilhelm needs 78 points to join them, and considering he averages 16 points per game and the Lions have four regular-season games plus the playoffs remaining, he seems a safe bet to make it a trio.

“I’ve never had one do it. To have two do it and one more close shows the success of these guys,” Dalleh, the Lions’ fourth-year head coach, said of his top three seniors. “They love the game and they’ve been willing to work to do what it takes to get better.”

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FEATURE: Hearne brothers have Cisco boys on dominant run

Cisco’s Kevin Hearne admits there are added challenges to coaching high school boys basketball when his sons are team members.

Hearne’s two youngest sons — senior Gibson Hearne and sophomore Dawson Hearne — are the leading scorers and rebounders for Cisco. After a so-so start to the 2019-2020 season, the 16-5 Loboes have won 14 of 16 games, including their first seven in District 6-3A by an average of 28.6 points.

Cisco opens the second half of district Tuesday by hosting second-place Early (6-1).

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FEATURE: Hanson sisters lead No. 9 Haskell’s 20-game win streak

The Haskell Maidens — one of the Big Country’s most consistent girls basketball programs over the last decade — have won 20 consecutive games this season, including their first five District 8-2A games by an average of 37 points.

The Maidens, 23-3 overall and 5-0 in district after Friday’s 53-32 win at Albany, are seeking their sixth consecutive district championship. Haskell was ranked No. 9 in last week’s Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 2A poll.

There are multiple reasons for this season’s success under new head coach Michael Skelton, but high on the list is the performance of sisters Landry Hanson and Delaney — or Laney — Hanson. Landry, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, is averaging 15.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 steals. Laney, a 5-11 sophomore forward, is averaging 15.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.4 steals.

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FEATURE: Hermleigh’s Benitez returns from two ACL surgeries

It’s tough enough to rehab from surgery for 6-9 months and return to competitive sports after suffering one torn ACL knee injury. Ryleigh Benitez of Hermleigh has done it twice within the last two years.

“I’ve never seen anybody come back from two torn ACLs to the same knee. After the second time, most people would call it quits, but Ryleigh is a tough kid,” said Duane Hopper, Hermleigh’s third-year girls’ basketball coach.

“She tore it the first time in the summer after her sophomore year (2018). She did it the second time in the spring of her junior year (2019) right after track season.”

Benitez, a 5-foot-7 senior who can play any position for the two-time defending Region II-1A champion Lady Cardinals, returned after her first torn ACL for the second half of the 2018-2019 basketball season. After the second ACL tear to her left knee last April, she was back for the start of preseason practices last October.

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FEATURE: No. 16 Brookesmith Lady Mustangs chasing first district title in 14 years

NOTE: Action photos by Jennifer Barrow, adviser of the Brookesmith yearbook. Brookesmith team photo by Sutherland Photography of Goldthwaite.

Danny Copeland was retired from coaching two years ago when he accepted an administrative position at Class 1A Brookesmith High School, located near Brownwood.

Now back in coaching, Copeland is on the verge of guiding the Brookesmith Lady Mustangs to their first district championship in basketball in 14 years.

The Brookesmith girls took a significant step toward winning their first district title since 2006 with Friday’s 44-32 road win over the perennially strong May Lady Tigers. Brookesmith (18-3 overall) completed the first half of District 18-1A with a 6-0 record and is ranked No. 16 in this week’s Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 1A statewide poll.

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FEATURE: With playmakers galore, Hamlin QB Warner may be an overlooked gem

It’s hard to imagine a third-year starting quarterback on a state semifinalist Texas high school football team being overlooked. Especially when his offense is averaging 47 points and 388 yards per game. And especially when he has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,212 yards and 29 touchdowns against only four interceptions.

But that may be the case with Hamlin’s Braydin Warner.

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FEATURE: Brock coach knew of Pilot Point’s potential


The football players from Brock and Pilot Point have become familiar foes over the last two seasons. The history between their head coaches goes back much farther.

District 4-3A Division I rivals Brock and Pilot Point each have won three playoff games to set up a Class 3A Division I Region I championship game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pennington Field in Bedford. Pilot Point (12-1) won the District 4-3A DI championship with a 20-14 win over Brock (11-2), which finished as the district runner-up.

Chad Worrell, the only head coach the Brock Eagles have had in their six seasons as a UIL-member varsity program, and Pilot Point coach Danny David both played high school football for the Pilot Point Bearcats — although not at the same time.

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FEATURE: Surprising De Leon rewarded for staying the course


DE LEON — First-year De Leon head football coach Andrew Dickson kept insisting his Bearcats were a good team — even through seven regular-season losses.

Despite the mounting losses and offensive struggles caused in part by a 180-degree change in philosophy, the Bearcats finally proved their coach right at an opportune time. Jorge Gonzalez rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns as the Bearcats, who entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed with a 3-7 record, stunned the Bruceville-Eddy Eagles 48-41 in overtime in their Class 2A Division I bidistrict game Friday at Whitney.

Bruceville-Eddy, the No. 1 seed from District 8-2A, entered the playoffs with a 9-1 record, its first outright district championship in 39 years and a bye week to recuperate for the playoffs.

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FEATURE: No. 1 Wall to enter playoffs without starting quarterback

The undefeated and No. 1-ranked Wall Hawks will enter the Class 3A Division I playoffs this week with starting quarterback Mason Fuchs still sidelined from a concussion suffered Oct. 25 during a District 3-3A DI game against the Eastland Mavericks.

Drew Morrison, a junior and the Hawks’ backup quarterback, started the final two regular-season games — wins of 20-6 over Breckenridge and 49-7 over Early.

“I don’t think Mason will be able to play this week,” Wall coach Houston Guy said, referring the Hawks’ bidistrict game against Boyd scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Cisco. “His first full day back at school wasn’t until Friday so he obviously has not returned to practice.

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FEATURE: San Saba’s defense dented, but withstands first major test

Photos by Denise Roland of San Saba

Andreas Aguirre stayed with the “dark side” of high school football after he was promoted to his first head coaching position earlier this year at San Saba.

Gary Roland is officially the Armadillos’ defensive coordinator. Aguirre manages game decisions, but the former seven-year defensive coordinator kept his coaching hand on the defensive side of the football. He left the offense to coordinators Austin Eudy and Corbyn Gilbert.

San Saba, undefeated and ranked No. 3 in Class 2A Division I, has allowed 37 points in nine games — an average of four points per start.

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FEATURE: Receiving foursome provides bright spot for still-young Sweetwater

A balanced receiving corps has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough season for the youthful Sweetwater Mustangs.

Junior Darian Carr, along with seniors Kei’Arriyen Griffin, Elijah Kent and Tyler Warner have combined for 97 receptions for 1,831 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Carr leads the group with 28 receptions, but Kent is close behind with 26 receptions, Griffin has 25 and Warren 18.

“They’ve learned how to get open based on what the coverage and the defense are doing,” Sweetwater third-year head coach Ben McGehee said. “They all consistently run good routes, and they all have good hands. They have very few drops.

“Our quarterback, Leo Holsey, trusts those guys and that allows him to spread the ball around. Leo knows his receivers are going to come to practice and work hard every day.”

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FEATURE: San Saba shows two QBs, making O’Keefe a triple threat

Sean O’Keefe proved last year he’s a dual threat quarterback, capable of hurting a defense by passing and running the football. This year the San Saba senior has become a triple threat with receiving added to his skill set.

The undefeated and state-ranked Class 2A Armadillos (6-0) have shown a package — even to start some games — with junior Risien Shahan at quarterback and O’Keefe at wide receiver. So far, San Saba has used the package for a limited number of series usually in the first quarter, then moved O’Keefe back to quarterback, where he is a four-year starter.

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FEATURE: Being healthier, bigger are plusses for Stephenville QB Renfro

The football life of Stephenville quarterback Kade Renfro has steadied after an injury-plagued 2018 season in which he missed the Yellow Jackets’ first four games with a hip flexor injury.

Renfro is healthy so far this season. He won the starting quarterback role over left-hander Cole Stanley. And he gave a verbal commitment over the summer to play college football for the University of North Texas.

“I’m more experienced, and I’m a lot calmer,” Renfro said when asked the difference in him now versus last season. “I can go out and lead the guys. They can look in my eyes and see that I’m ready to lead them.”

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FEATURE: Undefeated Lions led by lightning-quick defense

2019 Brownwood Snyder

It’s not difficult to discover why the Brownwood Lions are 5-0 and ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A Division I. Their defense is allowing 6.4 points per game and has recorded two shutouts.

“We’re thrilled, obviously,” said David Jones, Brownwood’s second-year defensive coordinator. “It gets harder to defend teams every year with the way they spread the field and the number of snaps they’re getting.

“But we believe that if each player will take care of his business, we’ll be tough to score on.”

Brownwood is fresh off its second shutout this year — a 33-0 win Friday over Class 5A DII Abilene Wylie — a game in which the Lions’ defense allowed only 109 total yards. The other shutout was 10-0 over 3A DI state-ranked Brock in the season opener. Sandwiched between the shutouts are wins overs Snyder (70-3), Graham (28-14) and Wichita Falls Rider (37-15). Brownwood will play its final nondistrict game Friday against Conroe Grand Oaks, a new program that will join the UIL next season.

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FEATURE: Ballinger’s Bean a true student of the game

To call Ballinger senior Cooper Bean a student of the game of football is an understatement.

“I’m a coach’s kid so I’ve been around football all my life,” said Bean, a running back and all-state linebacker for the undefeated Ballinger Bearcats. “I love watching film and studying every opponent we play. I like to know what’s coming at me on Friday night.

“I get yelled at by my teachers sometimes for watching film on my phone during class.”

Bean, a starter since his sophomore season, made 296 tackles during the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined. His 165 stops in 11 games last year earned the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Bean all-state honors at linebacker. He’s off to another solid start this season for Ballinger, which is 3-0 entering District 4-3A Division II play Friday.

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FEATURE: De Leon wading through injuries, schedule and transition

DE LEON — The De Leon Bearcats would have enough challenges this football season just switching from the pass-oriented spread offense to the run-oriented Wing-T. But the Class 2A Bearcats also lost six starters to injuries in their first two games, which doesn’t mix well with a challenging nondistrict schedule that opens with four 3A opponents in Clyde, Tolar, Dublin and Comanche.

The Bearcats edged Clyde 7-6 in the opener, but have since lost to Tolar 23-17 and Dublin 31-7. Next up is county rival Comanche followed by Stamford, a perennially solid 2A program.

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FEATURE: ‘Pound the rock and run the clock’ — Goldthwaite transitions from passing to running with Slot-T

Goldthwaite lines up in its new slot-T offense during its Aug. 30 season opener with Winters.

GOLDTHWAITE — The Goldthwaite Eagles’ transition from the pass-oriented pistol offense to the run-oriented Slot-T under new coach Keith Virdell enjoyed a breakout performance during Friday’s 36-27 win at Junction.

Goldthwaite rushed for 351 yards against Junction — which incredibly was more than the 317 yards rushing the Eagles managed during the entire 2018 season, when they finished 1-9. The 2018 total included 131 negative yards for quarterback sacks and 76 negative yards credited to the team for errant shotgun snaps.

The Eagles won’t have lost yardage for bad shotgun snaps this year since senior quarterback Grayson Moore is under center. They won’t have many sacks, either, since Moore has passed only five times in two games. The win over Junction ended Goldthwaite’s nine-game losing skid.

Virdell’s Slot-T is all about running backs hitting the holes quickly — whether it’s on a trap, sweep, quick pitch or misdirection run. The philosophy is to block and run quickly so the offense goes downhill.

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FEATURE: Dominant pitching a big reason for Wall’s No. 1 ranking

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Weishuhn

Most Class 3A baseball teams hope to have one or two starting pitchers who can consistently shut down opponents.

Wall has five pitchers with earned run averages of 0.60 or less, and it’s not like the undefeated Hawks have played a weak schedule. Their nondistrict victims include Class 6A Odessa High and 4A opponents Pecos, Andrews, Seminole, Dumas, Lubbock Estacado, Lamesa and Snyder.

It’s no wonder Wall is 31-0 and has been ranked No. 1 in 3A in the Texas Association of Baseball Coaches poll since the first week of April. Wall will face Alpine in the regional quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday in a best-of-three series scheduled for Christensen Stadium in Midland.

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FEATURE Gorman’s Guthery: Being 25-0 feels ‘awkward’ (photos courtesy of Jennifer Overstreet)

Caitlyn Clark has pitched through tendinitis this season.

Nick Guthery had to talk girls into playing softball when he became the Gorman coach in 2011. Nine years later, his Lady Panthers are 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state entering the Class 1A regional semifinals.

“I have to admit. It feels a little awkward,” Guthery said after Gorman, No. 1 in Class 1A in the Texas Girls Coaches Association poll, beat No. 5 Perrin-Whitt 6-1 in Thursday’s regional quarterfinals. “We’ve been undefeated in district before, but we’ve never been this far along and not lost a game.

“We don’t see ourselves as undefeated. We just play it a game at a time and move on to the next one. Most people think I should be pumped up about being undefeated. And I am, but we don’t dwell on it because we know we can be beaten on any day.”

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San Saba eliminates De Leon 31-17

BROWNWOOD — When Jerod Fikac arrived at San Saba in 2017 and inherited a 0-10 team, he asked his players a simple question.

“Coach Fikac asked us which was bigger: the rearview mirror or the front windshield?” recalled Armadillos’ end Joseph Watson. “We all said the front windshield. He told us not to look through the rearview mirror because it shows what’s in the past. The front windshield looks toward the future. He wanted us looking toward the future.”

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