When the high school baseball season began less than two months ago, both Mansfield High and Legacy were uncertain about what to expect in 2014. With four games left in the regular season, both are in position for district titles.
“We didn’t know what we were really going to have,” Broncos coach David Walden said.
Legacy was coming off a 15-4A district championship in 2013 but tasked with replacing six starters, including its entire pitching staff. The team started off 0-4, and Walden admits there were significant concerns.
But slowly the Broncos started putting things together, and after being 7-8, Legacy has ripped off 11 consecutive victories to stand at 18-8 overall with a 10-0 district record, two games ahead of Summit with four games remaining.
“They’ve kind of started figuring it out and they’re getting more comfortable playing varsity baseball as opposed to JV baseball,” Walden said. “I think it just took a while for them to adjust.”
Already assured of a playoff berth, the Broncos can hone in on winning a second consecutive district title – which isn’t what Walden expected.
“The teams that we played last year were all playing young kids and were good last year,” he said. “We thought the district would be extremely competitive and everybody would get beat up and it would go down to the last week of the season. Our players have been very fortunate. We’ve won some very close games with some balls dropping in and breaks going our way.”
He cautions that “there’s still a lot of baseball left to play,” but feels like his players won’t be distracted by win streaks or expectations.
“I don’t know if they really pay attention to that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s a different generation of kids. They’ve got so much going on at school and other things that I just think they show up and play. I never hear them talking about a win streak or anything like that. I just think they kind of show up and play.”
Similar to Legacy, Mansfield High had tempered expectations about 2014. When asked if he thought his team would be 21-5 and 9-1 in District 7-5A at this point, head coach Gary Vaughn was frank.
“Not at all,” he said. “We didn’t expect these kids to have the chemistry that they’ve developed this year.
“We had a lot of kids coming in this year that hadn’t played varsity baseball,” he continued. “We knew that we were going to have to be patient with them and let them develop, but as soon as we started playing games, these kids started showing how competitive they were. They’ve got good chemistry and they just play hard, and they’ve learned how to win close ball games.”
Entering the week, Mansfield has a one-game lead over Midlothian in the district standings with four games to play. The Tigers have won seven straight, and are outscoring district opponents 70-18. Only twice in 7-5A play have the Tigers allowed more than two runs in a game, and only once more than three.
“We always stress that we’re going to play good defense and the ball is going to go in the right direction,” he said. “We work real hard on the defensive part of the game. These kids, over lots of reps, have really turned into a defensive unit. We know that if we can get good pitching on the mound, then we’re going to be in the ballgame because we’re not going to make a lot of mistakes defensively.”
Summit isn’t out of the equation. Entering the week in second place behind Legacy in District 15-4A, the Jaguars would need some help to take over the top spot, but could help themselves and get some measure of revenge when they play the Broncos on Thursday.
Summit beat Legacy in a tournament game earlier this year – Legacy’s last loss – but the Broncos won their district meeting 5-3.
“You have to play a really good game to beat them, and we haven’t put together a good enough game to beat them,” Summit coach Chris Peacock said. “We’ve never played terrible, we just haven’t played our best.”
Peacock had high expectations for his senior-heavy squad entering the season, but thought the Jaguars might be more explosive at the plate.
“I thought we’d be really good defensively and we have been. I thought we’d pitch pretty well and we have,” he said. “I’ve been a little disappointed in us offensively. I thought we’d be better than what we’ve shown. We haven’t put enough good games together offensively. I think we’re certainly capable, it’s just a matter of us going out and doing it.”
The coach is hoping that his team peaks at the right time of year – heading into the postseason.
“The guys that we have in there are the guys we feel confident about. They’re the ones we feel have earned their spots. It’s just a matter of them believing in themselves and going out and doing it.”