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With the run of success the Albany baseball team has had the past five years, it should surprise no one that the Lions are back in the region semifinals.
Coach David Fairchild’s team has advanced to at least the third round of the playoffs every year since 2015, with a trip to the Region I-2A championship game in 2016 and the program’s first state tournament appearance in 2017.
With four players on their roster who played on that state team, the Lions have a small nucleus of upperclassmen who know what that experience is like. And those guys have a whole bunch of teammates who are eager to find out themselves.
Two of his three older brothers — Gus and Ligon — have helped pitch the Stamford Bulldogs into the state tournament in recent years.
So it may come as no surprise that 17-year-old Albany junior Ben West has made a splash this season as one of the top small-school pitchers in the Big Country.
The only difference is, this particular West model will be sporting red, rather than blue, when Albany and Haskell meet in a three-game regional quarterfinal series, beginning at 4 p.m. on Thursday at McMurry.
ALBANY — A troublesome first inning and a late unearned run were all that separated area rivals Hawley and Albany in Friday’s District 8-2A showdown at AHS.
Hawley’s Dylan Frazier outdueled Albany’s Ben West in a 3-2 win for the Bearcats, who gradually built a 3-0 lead before surviving a seventh-inning rally by the Lions.
Kolter Willeford with 1 for 2 with a walk, a sacrifice and two RBIs and Robert Ybarra plated two runs to lead Hawley, which managed to pull off the win despite charting only four hits.
Many of those who follow girls basketball in the Big Country are acutely aware of the highly successful program in Haskell and of its dominance in District 8-2A.
Haskell, however, may soon have some highly competitive company within the confines of its own league — perhaps as early as next year.
Burgeoning programs in Albany (17-8, 5-1 District 8-2A) and Stamford (20-9, 4-2) have not only taken significant steps forward this year, but have done so with sophomore-heavy rosters that, with typical progression, could improve dramatically over the next two seasons.
The two teams will meet in the opening game of Friday’s girls-boys doubleheader in Albany, in what could be viewed as a glimpse into the future of Big Country Class 2A girls basketball. In the present, however, a No. 2 playoff seed is the prize both young teams are after.
FEATURED SCHOOLS: Albany, Anson, Baird, Breckenridge, Brock, Brownwood, Clyde, Coahoma, Colorado City, Comanche, Cross Plains, Dublin, Eastland, Forsan, Hamlin, Haskell, Jim Ned, Merkel, Snyder, Stamford, Stephenville, Wall and Winters.
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A solid offensive line is in place. The quarterback situation isn’t hashed out yet. There is a smallish but stout fullback and an excellent running back. In other words, many of the ingredients are in place for a possible return to the playbook on which Faith built his career: the I-formation.
But, before any old-time football purists get their hopes up, the Albany staff will be evaluating the Lions during preseason workouts to decide the best direction to go — either retaining the spread attack they have used with a high degree of success over the last two years, or returning to Faith’s smash-mouth ways of old.
While the returning numbers aren’t fabulous (six offensive and five defensive starters among 12 lettermen), the Lions do return a core group of exceptional players. And while the junior varsity was an uncustomary 7-3 last year, two of those losses were to Class 3A powers Cisco and Colorado City.
So the question is, will Albany take a major step back from last year’s 13-1 overall mark?
Like Big Country Preps co-founders Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood, Wichita Falls Time Record News area writer Zach Duncan has been covering high school sports in his market for a long time.
Entering his 15th football season with the Wichita Falls newspaper, Duncan has seen more great games than he can count and worked with some outstanding coaches and players. This week, he took some time to share some his favorite football stories and talk shop with Evan and Daniel.
Also in this episode, Evan and Daniel discuss District 3-3A Division I and District 7-2A Division II — two all-area leagues that should be competitive from top to bottom.