Ever since he took over the Keller baseball program in 1998, Rob Stramp has kept his goals pretty simple.
He wants his program to be great and for his players to be successful. Simple or non-specific, you can take that a lot of different ways. Of course, if your program is both of those, then you’re going to field competitive teams that will compete for playoff berths, district championships and make postseason runs. Keller has done that year after year.
Disappointment became reality for the Indians this past weekend. They were one game away from advancing to the Class 6A state tournament in Round Rock after winning the Region I final opener against Arlington Martin, 9-8.
But the Warriors rallied and won the Region I championship by taking the next two, 6-3 and 14-4, to advance. Keller’s successful season ended at 26-6. This is the second time under Stramp the Indians have just missed going to the state tournament. They lost to Flower Mound in three games in the Region I finals in 2004.
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Keller believed it should be in this position going as far back as last fall. This wasn’t a run where the Indians caught a lot of breaks and were run on miracle after miracle. They earned this. When you win series against some very solid programs in Plano, Mansfield, Flower Mound and Wolfforth Frenship, you’re a program that plays a great brand of baseball.
“Before the season, I had a good friend, who is a pretty solid baseball man, say to the guys that they could win state,” Stramp said. “Back then, there were some raised eyebrows. But this was a seriously talented team. They were capable. I don’t think they took a backseat to anyone.”
Stramp built the pitching staff in the fall led by Gabe Martinez. Payton Grassanovits, Brad Gneiting, Shea Langeliers, Luke Wakamatsu and Hunter Seay came together and formed a lineup. This team didn’t beat anyone up with the big blows. But it found a way to build innings through three or four consecutive hits. It became contagious. It happened a lot because Keller won the District 5-6A championship by going 14-0.
“You never felt like you were out of the game,” Stramp said. “We could go into cold spells but somehow we found a way to put up a big inning.”
Maybe casual high school baseball fans aren’t aware of how Keller’s baseball program has performed over the years. When it comes to high school baseball in this area, Carroll, Coppell and Fort Worth Arlington Heights receive a lot of attention.
But take a look at what Stramp has done. Keller has advanced to the playoffs in 15 of his 17 seasons and made 14 consecutive appearances. That’s called consistency. But it also represents how hard it is to win five consecutive series and reach Austin.
The first truth in sports is that it’s really hard to win. Everybody wants to win. There’s endless work put in to accomplish it. But then you understand there’s somebody on the other side of the field who is trying to do the same thing.
What Stramp has done at Keller with this streak is something that any baseball coach or fan base would covet. While there hasn’t been a state tournament appearance, it’s better to be in the tournament with a chance than to never have a chance. There are pretty good odds Keller can make it 15 consecutive appearances in 2016 because a solid nucleus returns.
“There was huge chemistry and great leadership,” Stramp said. “They didn’t allow each other to quit. I was just amazed just watching them. They were relentless in what they were doing. One thing I told them after the Martin series is that are a great team. We may not have all of these All-Stars. But sticking together as a group was impressive.”