This has been the season John Herrick hoped would materialize.
It didn’t mean that the Justin Northwest baseball team was going to make the playoffs. But the Texans head coach believed this group of players, who are now juniors and seniors, would have a chance to win 20 games and compete for a playoff berth.
These Texans have followed the script. As they began a series with Northwest ISD rival Byron Nelson, the Texans were in the middle of the District 5-6A race. Northwest (15-5-1, 3-3) was tied for fourth. Keller Fossil Ridge has set the pace a 5-1. District favorite Keller is 4-2 along with Keller Timber Creek. Then Northwest follows, tied with Denton Ryan.
“When we got here, we were pointing to this year,” Herrick said. “This class was coming. There are a lot of talented players. They play the game very hard and understand what has to be done. They have matured. A lot of them. So it’s come the way we’ve hoped it would.”
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The district is in the second year in which teams play each other in a weekly miniseries. They play at each other’s location on Tuesday and Friday. District coaches adopted this plan for the 2015 season. It would force teams to see all of the other team’s pitchers instead of potentially running into the other’s No. 1 starting pitcher twice.
Tuesday’s game was at Nelson. Friday is at Northwest. To this point, Northwest went 0-2 against Fossil Ridge, 1-1 against Guyer and 2-0 against Keller Central.
The big arm
Senior right-hander Dustin May has been one of those who has experienced tremendous growth. Instead of his fastball topping out in the mid-80s, May (6-5, 175) is now touching the low the 90s.
Of course, that’s why he signed with Texas Tech. May is 6-1 with an earned-run average of less than 1.00. He has also developed his slider that explodes and then disappears at the plate. May’s curveball is his third pitch.
“There’s about eight [mph] between his fastball and slider, so that’s a really good difference,” Herrick said. “The thing that happened is that his body caught up with his growth. He’s also been hitting the weight room. It’s been a pretty fortunate set of circumstances.”
While May throws on Tuesday, right-hander Austin Whitelock has settled in as the No. 2 pitcher and pitches Fridays. Featuring a two-seam fastball, Whitelock has induced a lot of ground balls. The closer is right-hander Garrett Moltzen. But the definition for closer isn’t limited to one or two innings. It’s whenever this team needs him.
“With the exception of May, most of them are strike throwers,” Herrick said. “So our defense has to make plays. We’ve played pretty well to make all of the plays that we should.”
First baseman Cayde Ward and shortstop Tanner Tredaway have been strong in the middle in the batting order. Each is hitting close to .400. Herrick said his offense has primarily played a lot of small ball – bunting, hit and run, advancing runners on infield outs – but this team has been pretty good putting the ball in play.
Byron Nelson update
Following an appearance in the 2015 Class 6A state playoffs, Mike Killian’s team is sitting at 2-4 in the district race. Of course, this week’s series against the Texans will be important toward staying in it. The Bobcats (9-9 overall) have to do no worse than a split.