Like many of the athletic programs at three-year-old Lake Ridge, the baseball team is setting milestones and raising the bar on expectations. With Saturday’s district victory over Lancaster, the Eagles have secured their first-ever postseason appearance.
“Everybody is buzzing about it and we’re excited,” left fielder Logan Smith said. “We’ve been right on the edge of it both the other years, so we’re really pumped to be able to go now. We feel like we’re ready; we feel like we’ve improved over the last two years and we’re ready to show what we can do.”
The Eagles entered the week at 11-4 overall and 10-3 in District 14-5A, good enough for third place behind Waxahachie and Legacy. The story of how Lake Ridge got here is again similar to other sports at the school – a lot of it just had to do with growing up.
In the school’s inaugural season, the varsity squad was sophomore heavy. Coach Greg Ross said even last season the maturity level wasn’t quite there despite a year of experience, noting that pitching and defense were solid, but the team failed to get clutch hits when they needed them most. But this year, with 16 seniors, things have changed.
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“This year the pitching and defense is pretty much the same, but we’re hitting the ball a little better,” Ross said. “I think that’s the difference.”
Ross pointed out that seniors like Calvin Evans, Kyle Bean, Camron Lanzafame, Gunnar Gilbreath and Smith, who has been a starter since day one of the program, have all stepped up to make sure their last season in green is a memorable one. It’s that chemistry and common goal that Smith feels can make the Eagles a dangerous opponent.
“Our core group has been together for three years now,” he said. “We’ve gelled as a team and we’re ready to go. I think we’ll do well and we’ve got the talent. We just need to make sure it all comes together.”
Lake Ridge still has Arlington Seguin on the schedule this week before closing out the regular season against the two clubs ahead of them in the standings. It should serve as a litmus test for the Eagles as they prepare for that first-ever playoff game.
“I think it’s a good opportunity,” Ross said, noting that the first match-up with Waxahachie went 11 innings before the Indians pulled out a victory. “I told the kids during and after that game, those are the type of games that we want to be in because those are the types of games that get us ready for the postseason.”
Despite the opponent, almost meaningless regular season games can’t compare to the win-or-go-home reality of the postseason.
“The kids have never been there, but one thing I’ve preached the whole season is about staying focused and staying in the game,” Ross said. “It’s about us mentally being ready for any game, whether it’s (non-district), regular season or postseason. I think after preaching that all year, that’s sort of our mindset. That’s how we’ll head into the postseason. Like anything else being brand new, there will be butterflies and nerves and things like that. It’s my job to get them ready for it.”
Smith believes Ross is doing that.
“I feel like Coach Ross has prepared us well for that,” he said. “Our philosophy all year has been to treat every game like a playoff game, take everything seriously and maintain focus. Probably our biggest issues will just be dealing with the excitement and all the emotional things that go along with that. Just calming that down and toning it down and playing like we know how.”
Ross said whoever gets Lake Ridge in the bi-district series can expect a dogfight.
“We’ll go out and fight,” he said “We’re kind of scrappy, so we’ll go fight and give it all we’ve got. We’ve done that all year. I feel like if we continue with that mentality, we can go into a three-game series with a chance to win.”