Kurt Wilson is up for saving a game whenever the situation arises for the Arlington Martin baseball team.
During the district season, the senior picked up two saves in relief for the Warriors, and he may be called on to take the mound to close out a playoff victory. District 4-6A champion Martin opened the best-of-three bi-district playoffs against Abilene on Friday (see sports digest for details).
It’s a pressure-filled moment, but Wilson is unfazed by the save situation. “It’s more of an exciting moment,” said the Texas Tech signee, who is the team’s starting shortstop. “I’m just happy to come back healthy off of surgery last year.”
No wonder it’s no sweat for the senior. He’s already saved a season. Wilson, who spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Livingston in southeast Texas, came to Martin before his junior season but didn’t get to play because of an injury.
To have a good team, you have to have a good shortstop. Kurt, I think, is one of the best around here and in Texas.
- Martin outfielder Tristen Lutz
With Wilson and second baseman Zack McJilton absent, the Martin middle infield struggled. Now with Wilson starring at shortstop, Martin went 13-1 in district and returned to being a state championship contender.
“Me and [coach Curt Culbertson] had a conversation a few practices ago: For you to have a good team, you have to have a good shortstop,” star outfielder Tristen Lutz said. “He’s one of the main people in the infield who takes charge. Kurt, I think, is one of the best around here and in Texas. Having him and then Zack McJilton at second — it’s really comforting to have those guys who can make those great plays and turn two.”
It’s not just Wilson’s glove that has been invaluable for Martin. He’s also batting fifth, one spot behind the clean-up hitter, Lutz. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lutz hit .514 on the season while mashing nine home runs and driving in 42 runs.
“Having him hit behind me has really helped me this season — not having to put the extra weight on my shoulders,” said Lutz, a University of Texas signee who’s a likely high pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. “When you have a player like Kurt behind you, it makes things a whole lot easier.”
With 10 seniors leading the way, including starting pitchers Kenneth Waller, Maddux Miller and Spencer Johnston, Culbertson has the kind of squad that could make a deep playoff push.
“It’s a good group of seniors and they’ve worked hard,” Culbertson said. “They haven’t let it go to their heads and relaxed and said, ‘I’ve got mine.’ You can get that attitude. They wouldn’t have played if they did. But you can get that attitude. But they didn’t.”
Lutz has grown into the same kind of veteran leader he played alongside as a freshman and sophomore. Martin reached the state semifinal game in 2014 and the state championship game in 2015. In those seasons, the younger Lutz learned from talented veterans like Josh Watson, who’s now a standout at TCU.
“He was on some good teams where he didn’t have to be the guy,” Culbertson said of Lutz. “He grew up, took their place and became the guy.”
Lutz is laser-focused on trying to lead Martin to a championship. He can draw on the experience of playing in the state tournament. Wilson hasn’t played on that stage, but Lutz is confident his teammate can handle that kind of high-stakes game.
“All I can remember is losing that last game [in 2015] and coming up short,” Lutz said. “It pushes me, but it also pushes Kurt, who hasn’t been here but has heard about it every day – how close we’ve been.”
The Arlington Martin softball team has a one-game area-round playoff at 4 p.m. Friday vs. Odessa at Abilene Cooper High School.
The Lady Warriors swept Keller Fossil Ridge in the bi-district round, winning Game 1 3-1 and Game 2 4-0.
Arlington was swept in two games, 11-1 and 12-0, in bi-district.
For up-to-date playoff results and matchups, visit www.dfwvarsity.com and follow @dfwvarsity on Twitter.
Martin begins its bi-district series against Abilene at 7 p.m. Friday. Game 2 is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, and if necessary, Game 3 would begin after Game 2. All games will be played at North Crowley High School.
The Arlington Lamar baseball team faces Keller in a best-of-three bi-district series beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Game 1 is at Keller, and Game 2 will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lamar. A third game, if necessary, would be played after Game 2.
Stephen English: firstname.lastname@example.org, @sbenglish74