Texahoma Regional Preview
When the conversation turns to high school baseball in the Texas Gulf Coast tourist destination of Corpus Christi, veteran Calallen High School head coach Steve Chapman feels it’s important to understand one very basic tenet right off the bat.
“First of all, in South Texas, baseball is very, very important to the kids and the communities,” Chapman said over the telephone recently while talking a little high school baseball with Perfect Game. “You can win a state championship down here in baseball while other sports haven’t had the kind of success that baseball has.
“The kids realize that and they also realize that the opportunity to further their careers in baseball is here, too.”
Lee Yeager grew up in Houston, played and coached baseball at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, and admits to being a long-time East Texas guy. That was before he became head coach at Corpus Christi Carroll High School 12 years ago and began the transformation into becoming a South Texas guy.
The Carroll Tigers opened the 2012 season Feb. 20 at Corpus Christi Moody High School, and a crowd of 3,500 eager fans turned out. Yeager could physically feel the crowd’s passion.
“I remember somebody ranked us as the best amateur baseball city in the nation, which is pretty impressive,” Yeager said in a separate telephone interview with PG. “I’m not from here but I’ve been here for 12 years now, and it’s just like that first game – the first night we can play, we go out and play Moody in front of 3,500 people. There’s not too many people who can say they’ll (draw that big of crowd) for (a season-opener).”
Corpus Christi – Texas’ eighth-largest city with roughly 305,000 residents – has been labeled the “Sparkling City by the Sea” by tourism officials. But a plug certainly could be pitched promoting its high national standing on the high school baseball fields that dot the city.
Carroll High is ranked fifth in Perfect Game’s first regular season National High School Rankings after debuting at No. 6 in the preseason rankings. The Calallen Wildcats have moved up to No. 9 after opening at No. 12.
Carroll and Calallen are ranked first and second, respectively, in the Perfect Game Texahoma Region Rankings being released today, a talent-rich region that includes all of the high schools in Texas and Oklahoma.
Both schools are members of the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL); Carroll is in Class 5A (Region 4, District 28) and Calallen is in Class 4A (Region 4, District 31). Both programs have long histories of success, but the past two seasons have been particularly productive – to a certain extent.
Carroll won the Class 5A state championship in 2010 but lost in the semifinal round at last year’s state tournament. Calallen advanced to the Class 4A state championship game each of the past two years, but lost each time.
Both teams’ 2012 rosters feature seniors who have tasted those bittersweet state tournament experiences the past two years. Sky-high expectations at both schools this season are a direct result of past success coupled with returning experience.
“Whether we like it or not, the (Texas high school) coaches have ranked us No. 1, so our expectations are high, obviously,” Yeager said. “We won it when these (seniors) were sophomores, so we really don’t have a choice; it’s kind of been thrown on us and we have to embrace it and put it out of our minds, and know on any given night we can get beat if we’re not ready to play. Everybody we play, it seems like it’s their World Series.
“But our expectations are high and we feel like our guys have something to prove after losing the way we did last year.”
Carroll finished 35-6 after a humiliating 10-0 loss to Lubbock Coronado in last year’s 5A semifinals at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. Six seniors who played prominent roles on the 2010 state championship team, including Perfect Game All-American outfielder/right-handed pitcher Courtney Hawkins, return to bolster the Tigers’ bid in 2012.
The other returning seniors include first baseman/right-hander O’Shea Dumes (a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi recruit), middle-infielder Trey Rodriguez (San Jacinto CC), outfielder/right-hander Chris Cano (TAMU-CC), outfielder Jason Franco and third-baseman Josh Cruz.
Hawkins is a slugger and fire-balling right-hander who has excelled at every Perfect Game event he’s attended, including the 2011 PG National Showcase, the 2011 PG WWBA World Championship and the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings. His fastball has been gunned as high as 92 mph at PG events, he’s thrown 91 mph from the outfield and his hitting stroke has wowed college coaches and professional scouts alike.
Hawkins is ranked the No. 8 overall national high school prospect in the class of 2012 and has signed with the University of Texas after originally committing to Oklahoma. He is also ranked the No. 10 overall prospect in June’s MLB Draft (No. 5 among high school prospects) and will certainly be a first round selection.
“He’s more athletic than anybody I’ve ever coached that also has as high of a baseball IQ has he has,” Yeager said. “He’s really gifted and there’s no doubt he’s the best player I’ve ever coached. He does things on a baseball field that a lot of people just can’t do.”
With two games already under their belt, all the Tigers want to do is to keep playing – all the way to the Class 5A state championship game.
“Last year was really, really disappointing for us and I think our guys are really motivated to try to prove to the people in Texas that we belong there,” Yeager said. “We told them after (the state championship in) 2010 that it wasn’t a fluke, and then we go up there and laid an egg. I think that’s a pretty motivating factor for our guys right now.”
Calallen returns six starters from last year’s 39-6 Class 4A state runner-up squad, including senior right-hander/shortstop Wyatt Mathisen, pitcher Armando Arrevelo and outfielder Tyler Neslony. Junior outfielder Preston Dorsey and junior middle-infielder Lee May Gonzalez are also expected to contribute.
Mathisen is a special player. A UT signee like Hawkins, he pitches and plays short for Chapman at Calallen, but will catch at the next level, whether that’s in college or in professional baseball. He is ranked the No. 48 top national prospect in the class of 2012 and is projected to be a fairly high-round draft pick. Mathisen was 10-2 with a 1.27 ERA from the mound and hit .461 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI at the plate as a junior.
“He’s a very special kid,” Chapman said. “Besides being a great baseball player he’s also a very good kid, and that makes it a lot easier on everybody. When I talk to scouts I have nothing but good things to say, because when you talk to them you have to be truthful. He’s just a very good kid. He plays shortstop and pitches for us and catches sometimes (but) he’s probably going to be drafted as a catcher.”
Calallen opened the season with four straight wins at the McAllen-Mission ISD Tournament, and the Wildcats are eager to atone for their setbacks in each of the last two state championship games.
“We go into every season with high expectations; our goal is to win the state championship,” said Chapman, who led Calallen to 4A state championships in 2000, ’05 and ‘08. “These kids are no different than any other group we’ve had here in the last 20 years. It’s in the back of their minds … because several of them played on both of those teams and we came up short two years in a row. We’d like to be able to redeem ourselves.”
Redemption seems to be the theme for both of these Corpus Christi powerhouse programs. They seem to feed off each other’s successes, as does Corpus Christi Moody, which won a Class 5A state championship in 2004 and a 4A state title in 2007.
These Corpus Christi kids – South Texas boys – just love to play winning baseball.
“There’s a passion for baseball in this town and the people love it,” Yeager said. “I think that’s probably why there are so many good players and not just teams that come out of here, because everybody just loves baseball around here. There are so many expectations of the kids as they’re growing up, and a lot of kids grow up wanting to be Carroll Tigers. We’re signing autographs and the guys are almost like rock stars. And when they come together as teammates it’s pretty special to watch them play.
“… Our guys represent the community well and it’s just a passion and they have a strong desire to play well for their community.”