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Summer Collegiate  | Story  | 8/23/2013

BV Bombers' balance paves the way

Kendall Rogers     
It sure didn’t take long for Brazos Valley Bombers head coach Curt Dixon to figure out he was blessed with a good group of players this summer.

For many summer head coaches around the country, the summer collegiate season can sometimes be one of those situations where you’re just trying to put all the pieces together, hoping the pitching staff pans out. But not the Bombers, they were different. Instead of worrying about which pitchers would have which roles, the Bombers had a nice collection of starting pitchers, relievers, and perhaps most special of all given their proximity to Texas A&M University, Bryan High School and A&M Consolidated High School, they encompassed a lot of local flavor.

What likely began as an impossible dream for the Bombers ended in the Texas Collegiate League team’s ultimate milestone – finishing the summer as the Perfect Game Summer Team of the Year.

“Putting it all together, we knew we were going to be really talented in my second year here. The first summer, we were just kind of learning who to get, who not to get and so forth,” head coach Curt Dixon, who serves as an assistant coach at Eastern Oklahoma State College said. “One thing I really tried to do before the summer was find a bunch of guys who hadn’t thrown too many innings, and go from there. I think that’s what really separated us from the pack. We were able to roll out quality starters, as well as quality relievers.”

Most summer league title races are rather close, heated, and come down to the final couple of weeks of the regular season, as well as the playoff races. But the Bombers weren’t the norm, they imposed their will from the get-go. Brazos Valley finished the summer season with not only an easy ride through the TCL Playoffs, they also finished the year with a 49-15 record, including an incredible 26-4 mark the first half of the regular season.

In the TCL postseason, the Bombers proceeded to beat defending league champion East Texas in a winner-take-all single game, while they toppled Victoria in a three-game series to win the overall league title.

“As a competitor, you always have high expectations. The commitment and energy of these guys was impressive. You’re talking 56, 57 and so on games into the regular season, with things already locked up in the regular season race, and these guys are showing up early, focused and committed as they were on the first day of the season. That kind of dedication really contributed to the type of season we had.”

For the Bombers, much of their success this summer stemmed from strong pitching, beginning with Texas A&M right-handed pitcher Parker Ray and Middle Tennessee State junior left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis.

Both are intriguing players and prospects for different reasons. Ray, a former walk-on infielder at Texas A&M, didn’t get a lot of innings or headlines early on during the 2013 college baseball season. However, head coach Rob Childress leaned more on him as the season progressed, and he molded into one of A&M’s elite weekend starters, striking out eight, walking one and allowing just a run on five hits in 8 2/3 innings of work against Texas-San Antonio in the NCAA postseason.

Ray’s story and stock got better this summer. As one of the top pitchers for the Bombers, he started six games, threw 48 innings, struck out 49, walked 14, and most impressive, he finished the summer with a 1.68 earned-run average. From a stuff standpoint, Ray utilized an 89-92 fastball with four pitches, including a plus changeup to left-handed hitters. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, also showed good command of the strike zone.

“Parker. He just has all the intangibles. He’ll threw four pitches for strikes and that changeup to lefties is devastating. They’ll know it’s coming, and they simply still won’t hit it,” Dixon said. “He lives in good counts and he goes out there and pitches like he’s 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. He’s a bulldog and acts like he’s 28 or 29 and in the big leagues. It’s an impressive set of traits.”

As for Curtis, he’s impressive for his own set of reasons. Curtis, a smallish 5-foot-9, 179-pounder, might not have a strong physical presence, but his stuff more than made up for it this summer. Curtis finished the spring with the Blue Raiders sporting a 4.93 ERA in 80 1/3 innings, along with 74 strikeouts and 31 walks.

Though size certainly will be an issue with some scouts moving into his junior campaign, his stuff had scouts buzzing this summer. He was consistently 90-92 with a deceptive fastball as a starting pitcher, and Dixon and others feel like he could easily sit 93-94 during short stints as a reliever. Curtis finished the summer with a 1.61 ERA in 39 innings, along with 40 strikeouts and 23 walks.

“Every scout I spoke to this summer turned in good reports on Zac and commented on just how good he was. It was the best fastball I saw this summer, and you’re talking about a guy who goes out there without even thinking about looking in the mirror,” Dixon said. “He still needs to develop his secondary stuff a bit more, but his fastball is very hard to pick up and it’s a special pitch. He had a great summer, and I could really see him as a lefty specialist at the next level.”

Cal State Northridge right-handed pitchers Bryce Rutherford and Shay Maltese also left a strong impression on Bombers coach Curt Dixon this summer. Rutherford served as a starting pitcher, making nine starts and tallying 58 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 56 innings of work. Meanwhile, Maltese made a strong impression. Maltese, who went undrafted earlier this summer, could be an intriguing senior sign candidate to watch during the 2014 college campaign.

Maltese, serving as a reliever/closer for the Bombers, struck out 28, walked 12 and tallied a 3.11 ERA in 17 1/3 innings of work. He also showed a 90-92, and up to 94, fastball with heavy sink, while he had a 79-82 wipeout slider. Maltese worked especially hard this summer on improving his two-seam fastball.

“I had some scouts this summer come up to me at times and talk about how Shay has big-time stuff,” Dixon said. “He’s still figuring things out overall, but he’s absolutely a draft guy moving forward.”

As with most teams during the summer, the Bombers didn’t have an incredibly productive offense. However, they were opportunistic and had a unique three-headed monster in UTSA infielder Horacio Correa III, junior college infielder Blake Kopetsky and incoming Texas A&M signee, gangly first baseman G.R. Hinsley.

Correa earned good reviews this summer, showing versatility in terms of positions he can play around the infield, while also hitting .314 with a home run and 28 RBIs. Kopetsky, formerly of Temple Junior College, arrived at the TCL with big dreams. Well, those dreams came true as he hit .309 with five homers and 30 RBIs, impressing observers, including A&M’s Childress, enough to where he earned a spot on the Aggies’ roster next fall.

Then there’s Hinsley. Hinsley is a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, first baseman, who displayed consistency and a good eye for the zone this summer. He batted .309 with 14 doubles, six homers and 55 RBIs, while most impressive, he tallied 28 walks as opposed to just 22 strikeouts.

“He’s a stud. I saw him first when we played Paris JC in the spring. He just finds the barrel and can hit in any count. He’s a middle of the lineup type of guy who just gets the job done,” he said. “Something that really gets overlooked is that G.R. has very good footwork at first base, too. He’s a gamer, he’s consistent and he’s not just a hitter. He’s a very solid overall player.”

Overall, the Brazos Valley Bombers were a fun team to follow with somewhat of a different approach. The main goal of summer leagues around the country is to refine the game of players, while also helping mold them into better prospects.

The Bombers, thanks to their leadership from top to bottom, instilled those principles, while also emphasizing the idea of “team” in the summer landscape.

Dixon knew that approach at the beginning of the summer, and it indeed paid huge dividends.