The Carroll Dragons were just ranked No. 1 in the state for 5A schools by the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, or THSBCA. They were also ranked fifth in the nation in last week’s Collegiate Baseball Newspaper High School Poll.With a 16-1 record, including seven shutouts, it is easy to see why.“Our total pitching staff has been our strength this year,” said head coach Larry Hughes. “They have a total ERA of just a little over one point. They’ve been throwing some big games.”In Friday’s 10-0 rout over Keller Timber Creek, winning pitcher Joe Heineman gave up only three hits and improved his overall record, joining teammate Ben Leeper at 4-0 on the season.“Our pitching and defense have really carried the team so far,” Hughes said.Hitting has not been as consistent as defense for this team, but Hughes sees repetition as the key to improvement.“We have had some ups and downs with our hitting, but the more at-bats our starters get, the better we get,” he said. “We have a really good defense, so the more consistent we are with our hitting, the better we’ll be.”The bats were effective on Friday. Garret Hale had three hits and two RBIs, and Eric Cole and Drew Davis each had two hits.The Dragons have seven returning starters this season and six seniors. That familiarity has certainly been an asset.“We have a good nucleus coming back and they are really close,” Hughes said. “Experience is always important but the team chemistry is a big part of our team’s success, and has helped us to a good start.”While returning starters automatically become the new team captains, the job is more than just a title.“We encourage leadership and we want somebody to step up. Some kids are natural leaders,” Hughes said. “They have all done a good job at different times, in different games and for what they sense we need at that time. If we haven’t been as enthusiastic they do a good job of rallying the team and working them up.”Plenty of big games are still on the schedule before the playoffs, and Hughes isn’t letting the strong start or concern over rivalries steer the team off course.“Even though some schools are closer and there may be a rivalry there, or some of the kids know players on those teams and that makes it more of a rivalry, you don’t really look at those games differently.” He said. “We have to look at every district game as an evenly matched game.”As for the recent accolades, Hughes is modest but proud. “Since we did not start the season at number one, I think it is an honor that our current team has earned.”The Dragons next face Richland at home on Tuesday. Game time is 7 p.m.