Pitching around a hitter is a sign of respect and fear.
This season, area pitchers tried to avoid throwing anything close to the plate when Keller Fossil Ridge's Sheldon Neuse was at bat.
OF Cody Thomas, Jr., Colleyville Heritage: Thomas earned offensive player of the year honors in District 6-5A with a .415 batting average. He had 29 RBIs, 21 extra-base hits, 27 walks and 31 runs scored.
OF Hunter Hargrove, Jr., Mansfield: Hargrove was the offensive MVP of District 5-5A and played solid defense in center field.
OF Drew Smith, Sr., Crowley: Smith had a good year on the mound with a 1.41 ERA and 61 strikeouts, but also played well in the outfield and put up big numbers at the plate (.431 average and .527 on-base percentage) to be the 7-4A MVP.
INF Sheldon Neuse, Jr., Keller Fossil Ridge: Neuse was a force at the plate, batting .443. Neuse, the Super Team Player of the Year, had great numbers pitching as well, but he made some of his biggest plays of the year at shortstop.
INF Trooper Reynolds, Sr., Weatherford: Reynolds, a third baseman, batted .500 with 46 RBIs and 19 extra-base hits to earn offensive player of the year in 4-5A.
INF Connor McGuire, Jr., Grapevine: McGuire was the 6-5A MVP after finishing the regular season with 35 hits in 85 at-bats. He finished with 17 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
INF Kenny Hill, Jr., Southlake Carroll: Hill, a third baseman, was one of the most feared hitters in the area and earned offensive player of the year in 7-5A.
C Emilio Martinez, So., Fort Worth Trimble Tech: Martinez was the sophomore of the year in District 6-4A with a .491 batting average, 54 RBIs and 21 extra-base hits.
P Nick Hendrix, Sr., Arlington Martin: Hendrix was one of the most dominant pitchers in the area with a 6-0 record and a 1.26 ERA in district play to earn 4-5A's MVP award.
P Teddy Stankiewicz, Sr., Fort Worth Christian: Stankiewicz was 9-1 in the regular season and topped 100 strikeouts to earn the district MVP.
P Nolan Brown, Sr., Colleyville Heritage : Brown was the pitcher of the year in District 6-5A with an 8-0 record and a 1.13 ERA. He also had a .333 batting average with 24 RBIs.
OF Nick Woodall, Jr., Cleburne: Woodall was the offensive player of the year in District 7-4A.
OF Vinnie Trevino, Sr., Trimble Tech: Trevino batted .414 with 20 RBIs and was the MVP of District 6-4A.
OF Alex Smith, Sr., Fort Worth Paschal: Smith was a District 4-5A first-team outfielder with a .338 batting average, 26 runs scored, eight stolen bases and a .527 on-base percentage.
INF Trevor Hillhouse, Jr., Birdville: Hillhouse was the offensive MVP in 5-4A.
INF Jered Rhodes, Sr., Weatherford: Rhodes batted .444 with 36 RBIs and 21 extra-base hits to earn newcomer of the year honors in 4-5A.
INF Darien McLemore, Sr., Southlake Carroll: McLemore was a force at the plate and played strong defense at first base.
INF Zac Michener, Jr., Kennedale: Michener batted .532 with 29 RBIs.
C Taylor Empkey, Sr., Hurst L.D. Bell: Empkey was one of the top defensive catchers in the area and earned defensive player of the year honors in 6-5A.
P Tyler Alexander, Jr., Carroll: Alexander was one of two pitchers of the year in District 7-5A.
P Tejay Antone, Sr., Mansfield Legacy: Antone was the pitcher of the year in 5-5A with an 8-1 record and a 1.31 ERA.
P Matt Wright, Sr., Mansfield Summit: Wright was the pitcher of the year in 7-4A with a 7-4 record. He had a 1.11 ERA and threw six complete games with 71 strikeouts.
That didn't matter. Neuse, a junior, still batted .443 with four doubles, five triples, 21 RBIs and 26 runs scored. He was also dominant on defense at shortstop and was 5-0 with a 1.31 ERA on the mound to become the Star-Telegram Player of the Year.
"This is big, but the only thing it's going to do is set my goals even higher," Neuse said. "If I can do it once, I can work hard and do even better next year."
Twice, opponents walked Neuse intentionally without first base being open. Against Saginaw, a district game, Neuse drew an intentional walk with runners on first and second. The move put the tying run on third for the Panthers late in the game.
"You don't see that often at the high school level," Fossil Ridge coach Doug Dulany said.
Neuse also recorded 54 strikeouts and had just seven walks.
"He works fast and he has a great presence on the mound," Dulany said. "He always wants the ball. He's not scared of throwing strikes. That's his competitiveness. He always keeps you in the game."
While he dominated on the mound, Neuse prefers to think of himself as a shortstop first. Against Coppell, he sprinted to his left to make a tough stop and flipped the ball to start a game-ending double play.
"Some of the key plays throughout his career have been momentum-changing plays at short," Dulany said. "With him at short, our other pitchers know they don't have to strike guys out. It gives your team so much confidence when you have a strong defense up the middle."
Neuse didn't look at his stats during the season.
"My dad tried to keep me updated a little bit, but I didn't concentrate on them," he said. "It was my job to go out there and play hard. Stats are important to an extent. But it's about accomplishing goals. I think I could have had a lot better year."
Neuse compiled his stats in District 7-5A against quality teams like Southlake Carroll, Denton Guyer and Coppell.
"I think we have the toughest district in the area," Neuse said. "We have so many pitchers who are going to D-I colleges. It's the district to be in."
Neuse, also a standout quarterback for Fossil Ridge's football team, doesn't like to sit around. Two years ago, he played for Team USA's under-16 team. This summer, he's trying out for the under-18 team.
"Every time I see an American flag, or hear USA, it means something to me," said Neuse, who won a gold medal with Team USA in Mexico in 2010. "I'm thankful for what I have here. Sometimes you don't realize that until you travel and represent your country against other countries and see how they represent themselves too."
Neuse had a tremendous junior season, but he is already focused on his senior season.
"Next year, I want to hit .550 at least, and I think I can achieve that," he said. "As long as I put the work in. I will go out hit every day, take ground balls, do whatever I have to do to get better."
His coach doesn't see any reason to doubt Neuse's goals.
"He's been unbelievable since his freshman year," Dulany said. "He accepts the responsibility that comes with being really good. He has shown that maturity since his freshman year in the way he handles himself and prepares."
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760
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