Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

May 6, 2014

GC Baseball: Dawson ready for another run

DAWSON — On the Dawson baseball diamond they have all the baseball language you want — the ERA the OBP, the WHIP and of course, the AIO.

Never heard of the AIO? Well, that belongs to the Bulldogs. They have wrapped themselves in those letters and wrapped a season around it.

And guess what?

Here they are, ready to make another run in the Class 1A baseball playoffs — ready to be better than ever (yes, better than last year's team that drove its way to the regional semifinals).

There were those doubters and critics (you know the ones). The kids heard it. The kids felt it.

But then again, they had the AIO.

“It's all about adjusting, improvising and overcoming,'' said Coach Chris Sexton, who came up with the AIO theme early in the season. It stuck. The words are written on T-shirts and on the heart of a Dawson team that has plenty of heart.

“These guys had to go through a lot of adversity,'' Sexton said. “They could have given up and just said the heck with the season, but they didn't. They continued to fight. They overcame adversity.''

There were expectations that came with the start of a new season, but the Dawson kids were in the hole before the first pitch. Not only had the Bulldogs lost three of their top plays to graduation, but two starters were injured at the beginning of the season.

To make things worse, they started out 0-2, losing a couple of one-sided games to begin the year. The whispers were out there.

“Nobody expected us to be as good. We heard from some other teams that they didn't think we would be as good. We showed them we can compete,'' said Dalton Long, one of three seniors who not only refused to listen to the doubters but went out and had a monster season.

Long, Trent Underwood and Brandon Ceehand took over the leadership roles as seniors, and Sexton kept his kids believing, and after turning the lineup inside out, Dawson found its place on the diamond. “We had guys playing different positions, playing where they had never played before and some played multiple positions,'' Sexton said. “We had freshmen step up and make plays. These guys fought hard. Nobody ever made excuses about having guys hurt.''

The Bulldogs (13-9) just kept getting better, and tougher to beat and in the end they were faced with one last hurdle in the district race. After battling for second, they moved into first in the second half of the district race, and needed to win their last two games to clinch. By then they had Ceehand and Jarod Gray, who both had knee surgery to start the season, back. They won the final games and finished at 8-2 to win the district title.

The kids say the adversity just made winning district that much sweeter.

“A lot of freshman grew up real quick,'' Long said. “They went from being nervous to being confident and making plays.''

Freshmen Reece Walker (second base), Conner McEntire (outfielder) and Justin Gray (shortstop and second base) all found a place on this team, and returning starters such as Mason Burleson went from second base a year ago to playing third and ending up catching as just about everyone made an adjustment and some made gigantic ones. Burleson not only turned himself into a top catcher, but he batted .319 and drove in 19 runs in 22 games.

Underwood and Ceehand are the top pitchers and Sexton said he can't even call them 1 and 2. They're more like 1 and 1A. Ceehand had to come back from knee surgery, but since returning he's 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA and has struck out 46 batters in just 28 innings. Underwood is 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA and has 59 Ks in 37 1/3 innings. Both tear it up at the plate as well. Ceehand is hitting .472 with 11 runs and 10 RBI's and Underwood is hitting .449 while scoring 16 runs and leading the team with 23 RBI's. The other senior, Long, is batting .413 and has stolen 13 bases while scoring 24 runs. All three have a slugging percentage over 1.000.

Lane Dotson, a sophomore, leads the team with a 1.454 slugging percentage and is batting. 500. He leads the team in steals (23) and runs (32) and has driven in 17 runs.

Jarod Gray came back a few weeks ago and he's been on fire, too. He's batting .438 and has scored six runs while driving in six runs. His younger brother, Justin, is hitting .342 and has stolen 13 bases.

The team batting average is .345, but the only number the Dawson kids care about is where they finish the season.

Last year's team lost in the regional semifinal (when there were just 16 Class 1A teams left in Texas), and this season is all about winning when it counts.

“That loss last year is something I will never forget,'' Underwood said. It left me with a feeling of emptiness. We were so close.''

Long felt the same way.

“We've been talking about that lately. We don't want what happened last year to happen again,'' he said.

All the kids remember losing in the playoffs and as they begin this year's run in the Class 1A playoffs with a three-game series against Dodd City at West Mesquite's Tillery Field on Thursday, there's a feeling of completing the drill and getting it done this time around.

“When we lost last year, it was a pretty bad feeling. It really hurt,'' Ceehand said. “I think we want it 10 times more this year.''

They're back and they're hungry, and the kids and coach on this team will all tell you they appreciate where they are because of what it took to get here.

“It's been a fun season with a lot of learning,'' Long said. “I think the best part of the season is the way we came together.''

Underwood agreed.

“I think it was the bond we had,'' he said.

And Ceehand echoed his teammates.

“I think it was the fight in each of us,'' he said.

To give you an idea what kind of team they have in Dawson, just look at Dotson, who got hit in the face with a pitch that broke his cheekbone. He had surgery and played in the next game.

“What these guys have been through this year,'' Sexton said. “They have sacrificed. They've played through injuries and showed toughness and togetherness. Every at-bat is a team at-bat. They play for the team. The whole team has been like this. They've played through it all.''

It has been a season of comebacks and believing — a season of AIO …

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