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High School  | General  | 2/10/2021

Lake Travis sets Texas-sized goals

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Alec Grossman (Perfect Game)

Winning a lot of baseball games year-in and year-out has been just about par for the course at Lake Travis High School ever since the school came into being in 1981. Over the last seven years, the winning has become so regular that it’s now an expectation and it’s been that way since the arrival of head coach Mike Rogers ahead of the 2014 season.

It’s a Texas big-school success story perhaps unrivaled in the Lone Star State over the last decade with (according to records posted on the MaxPreps website) the Cavaliers going 196-34-5 (84.7 percent) and six-for-six in district championships since the 2014 season. They were 14-2-1 overall and tied for the district lead at 3-0 when the 2020 season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lake Travis HS is located in an unincorporated area about 20 miles west of the Austin city limits near the Lake Travis reservoir in central Texas. It serves just more than 3,200 students and its athletics teams compete in Class 6A, the Texas University Interscholastic League’s (TUIL) classification for its largest enrollment schools.

What makes the won-loss record over the last seven seasons all the more remarkable is that the Cavs compete in 6A Region IV District 25 alongside other Austin-area big-school hotshots like Hays, Westlake, Austin and Lehman, and they’ve been totally dominant. No other team in the league has sniffed a district championship since early last decade.

“We have a great culture here and it’s been really good for a while,” Rogers told Perfect Game during a recent telephone conversation. “We’ve got great community support and the University of Texas is nearby; we have several ex-players in the area. Baseball is important here and it’s important to the families.

“They have the economic means to make it important, so the kids are playing in leagues early on and they travel early on and get lessons early on so it’s a very competitive school in all the sports, but baseball especially.”

And with that substantial support network firmly in place, the Cavaliers are set to embark on a 2021 season with expectations as high as ever, both inside and outside the program. They’ll open at No. 10 in the Perfect Game High School Preseason Top 50 National Rankings and as the No. 1-ranked outfit in the PGHS Texahoma Region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana).

The high ranking should come as no surprise. Rogers’ first five teams won at least 24 games from 2014-18 but never advanced beyond the third round of the state playoffs. In other words, something was missing, and that was a trip to the Class 6A state tournament held annually at Dell Diamond, the home of the MiLB Triple-A Round Rock Express.

That changed in 2019 when the Cavs beat Laredo Alexander in the Region IV finals series to advance to the 6A state tournament for the first time in school history. They didn’t stay long, but that team – led by 2019 first round MLB draft pick Brett Baty – set a program record for single-season wins with 37.

With almost everyone back from that team in 2020, visions of the school’s first-ever state championship were dancing in the Cavaliers’ heads; then COVID-19 hit the fan and those visions were put on hold. Welcome to 2021.

“That group graduated so this is like the next group and they’ve got in their mind that they’re going to get back to Dell Diamond,” Rogers said.

This is an impressive roster built around a strong 10-man senior class supplemented by an equally-stout 11-man junior class. At least 11 of the prospects have already committed to the college programs of their choice where they’ll continue their academic and athletic pursuits in the years to come. And Rogers is fully aware of where the strength of the roster lies.

“We’ve got outstanding pitching,” he said almost matter-of-factly. “And with outstanding pitching you always have a chance, so we’ll see. They’re working hard but this is kind of like it’s our turn to go to Dell Diamond. The (2019) group made it and we didn’t get a chance last year, but now it’s our turn. So it’s kind of a new group this year.”

That vaunted pitching staff is led by senior right-hander Alec Grossman, a Texas signee and a 2020 PG National Showcase alum ranked No. 388 nationally in the 2021 class. Senior right-hander Ethan Roark (t-500, TCU) and senior lefties Giacomo Hester (Blinn College) and Jack Litowitz (Mars Hill U.) should also contribute.

Top arms from the junior class belong to the right-handers Pierce George (t-500, Texas) and Luke Jackson (t-500, UL Lafayette) and the lefty Charlie Bower (t-500, Baylor); sophomore righty Orlando Jose Gonzalez, Jr. (No. 417) will also be available. It truly is an embarrassment of riches.

“It’s going to be a coach’s dream,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be hard to get everybody enough innings and that can be a coach’s nightmare but in a good sense...We’ve got plenty of depth on the mound and for whatever reason Lake Travis has always had good pitching. That’s kind of the deal here and it’s just going to continue this year and next year.”

The collection of players backing up that staff is pretty impressive in its own right, keeping in mind that several of the pitchers mentioned above will take a position on the field when they aren’t pitching.

Junior infielder Kaeden Kent (No. 441, Texas A&M) may be the most prominent with plenty of help from senior catcher John Riden (t-1000, Wolford) and senior infielders Logan Baker, Dylan Schlotterback and Cole Gibson; sophomore outfielders Cole Johnson (No. 320) and Liam Richards (t-1000) are faces of the future.

The Cavaliers have made it through the pandemic about as well as can be expected with only a couple of hiccups in the fall but not much else as the school year progressed. Rogers feels comfortable with where his team is at moving forward and everyone involved will just continue to follow the recommended protocols and procedures and hope that’s good enough in the long run.

“It’s like anything else in athletics, we just try to prepare; it’s part of it,” he said. “The good ones can deal with it mentally; they focus on what they can control and move on and the other ones make excuses. We talk about doing your job today and we’ll see where we’re at tomorrow and then we’ll go from there. You can only control what we can control and the rest of it we try not to worry too much about it.”

The Cavs held their first scrimmage of the season last Saturday and they’ll continue to scrimmage the next two weeks. They’re set to kick off the regular season on Feb. 26 at the prestigious Globe Life Field High School Showcase played at the Rangers’ new stadium in Arlington.

Initially, the tournament field was going to consist of eight teams from across the country but the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of the out-of-state schools to back out. PGHS No. 1-ranked IMG Academy out of Florida is still scheduled to attend and they’ll be joined by the Texas schools Lake Travis, South Grand Prairie, Rockwall-Heath, Flower Mound, Prosper, Marcus and Southlake Carroll.

It will mark the start of Rogers’ eighth season as head coach at Lake Travis and his 40th season of coaching overall. A Houston native who earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees from Lamar University, Rogers has made stops at a number of Texas high schools along the way; he was at Alvin HS just before arriving at LTHS.

“It’s awesome, you know. You love the game, you love the kids, you love the competition,” he said when asked what the long ride has been like. “I’m getting old and I still enjoy it so I’m going to keep doing it year-to-year and see how we do.”

Rogers has seen a lot of changes in the high school game over the years, especially with the growth of summer travel ball programs and the proliferation of new training techniques and technologies. Today’s players have access to their own fitness and weight-training coaches, and some even have their own nutritionists.

All of that is hugely beneficial for the teen-aged prospect, of course, and Rogers won’t live in the past. If his players are better prepared for the rigors of a spring high school season, then his program will be better in turn, and that will only make the overall Lake Travis baseball experience all the more rewarding.

And that’s the way it should be at a place like LTHS. Most of the kids on this 2021 Cavaliers roster have grown up together and shared neighborhoods, classrooms, gymnasiums and, yes, ballfields their entire lives. They’re committed to one another and enjoy tremendous camaraderie while also maintaining their competitive drive.

There is an impressive tradition of winning at Lake Travis and Rogers and his staff have done a pretty darn good job of enhancing that tradition. The coaches make sure their players understand they have an obligation to give back to their school and their community while representing both in a manner everybody can be proud of.

Past Cavaliers teams in 2014 through 2018 laid the groundwork and walked right up to the big door that leads to state tournament glory. The 2019 Cavaliers broke through that door on their way to Round Rock before last year’s team was denied the opportunity to take things one step farther.

If COVID-19 protocols allow this season to proceed with no or, at least, limited interruptions, the sky just might be the limit for these Lake Travis Cavaliers. All the pieces certainly seem to be in place for good things to happen.

“We’ve got great kids and great parents, they work hard and, again, they have a purpose,” Rogers said. “Of course they want to be good, they want to win, but they really want to get back to the state tournament and that’s kind of their goal. I admire their work habits and their focus every day and it’s easy with these guys to just keep going in the right direction...

“It’s a great environment with high expectations,” he concluded. “The people are great about providing the resources we need.”