Returning starters are always a big lift to any baseball squad. So imagine the impact of having two starters returning for their fourth year of varsity experience.
Fossil Ridge is fortunate to have Christian Hollie and Luis Rivas back on the diamond following their run last year to the third round of the playoffs.
The four-year starters are joining with the other 11 seniors to help keep the other team members accountable.
“I understand the game,” Rivas said, “but now looking back, I didn’t know as much as I thought.”
As a catcher, Rivas has spent four years behind the plate and has been able to learn an understanding of the game from a front-row seat.
“For four years behind the plate, I understand it more than in prior years and I can take charge of a play,” Rivas said. “I learned a whole lot during my four years. In my freshman year, I thought I knew how to catch, but now I can take charge of the pitching staff and I know the game so much more.”
The pair were the only starters as freshmen and then another two joined them as sophomore regulars.
While Rivas was behind the plate, Hollie started in the outfield. When standout Sheldon Neuse was on the mound for the Panthers, Hollie moved in to the infield to shortstop, where he is still positioned following Neuse’s graduation.
“I think the freshman experience was good for me,” Hollie said. “But I knew what I had to do to get better. My defense my freshman year was not that good. Over the summer I put in a lot of practice on my defense. That was the part of my game that I knew was keeping me back from being a great player.”
Both players acknowledged the game during their freshmen and sophomore years was a bit of a blur as they adjusted to the varsity level with faster players and balls being hit harder. “I wasn’t ready for pace of the game,” Hollie said.
The two have helped their fellow Panthers catch up to the pace, as they have notched an early 4-0 district record after beating Keller and Central last week.
Both feel they’ve taken leadership roles on the team, to some degree, as they have a feel for what head coach Doug Dulaney expects.
“When Coach isn’t there, we take control and help the team get back on track,” Rivas said. “The four years on varsity has helped the most in knowing what to expect and not taking on extra pressure.”
The 13 seniors this year are all captains, which also aids in keeping the pressure from building.
“We want to help everyone to get better because we’ve been there longer,” Hollie said. “It comes naturally and I like accepting the role of helping everyone become better by giving advice or keep them out there and being accountable.”
Holding each other accountable is one way the Panthers intend to reverse the last two years of being district runner-up to Carroll. Another step toward making that happen will be Friday’s first matchup with the Dragons.
In addition to wanting to get past the second-place district finish, the two seniors said last year’s playoff loss to Arlington Martin is feeding their hunger to go deeper in the postseason.
“Last year the way the year ended, we came back hungrier,” said Hollie. “We’d love a shot at Martin to take them down and go deeper in the playoffs.”
Certainly a district championship is one team goal, Hollie said. “To get the championship and get to the playoffs and go farther and get to the state tournament.”
“It seems like it’s flown by,” Hollie said of the senior campaign now that they are already into district play.
“We can go real deep in the playoffs,” Rivas said. “And maybe, well, you just never know.”