Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


April 11, 2014

GC Baseball: Kerens closing in on first district title since 1977

KERENS — Step by step, inch by inch …

That's how the Kerens baseball team got here, right here on the threshold of what could be the program's best season since 1977.

“That's a long time ago, 1977, a long time ago,'' said Kerens senior shortstop Shelton Sayles, a four-year starter who is one of the big reasons Kerens has emerged as a baseball power.

There are four seniors who have been part of the movement, part of the process that has changed the dynamic at Kerens. Brett Anderson, Brent Warren, Dustin Jock and Sayles have been here for the entire ride, and a fifth senior, Aaron Foxworth, moved in from Cayuga last summer to give the Bobcats a core of seniors that may just take this year's team to a deep run in the playoffs.

But first things first — these kids want a district title. And if they get one it will be the first at Kerens since 1977, or like Sayles said, the first in a long, long time.

“This is a good group of seniors,'' said Coach Jayson Engel, who has coached baseball at Kerens for 13 years. “In my opinion, you're as good as your senior leadership, and we have great senior leadership.

“The seniors who were here as freshman have won 55 games in four years and it's not over. It's a good group of kids. The last (four years) we have kids who go out and play hard. We played hard before but this is the group that kept getting better.''

Step by step …

“Their first year the goal was to get to the playoffs. The second year we wanted to win a playoff game and last year we wanted to win a playoff series,'' said Engel, whose kids accomplished those goals and now want more.

“When we started this season I think they had a sour feeling about how last year ended (with a loss in the second round of the playoffs),'' he said. “It wasn't so much a sour feeling as it was a hunger. They're hungry for more.''

They play like they're starving. Kerens has been destroying teams. Going into Friday's game, the Bobcats were 11-3 and 9-1 and in first place in District 18-1A with a two-game lead over Cayuga and Cross Roads. They had won eight in a row, and outscored the other guys, 108-26. During that streak they beat Cayuga 8-2 and hammered Cross Roads, 13-0.

Not bad for a team that has hit one home run all year. That's right, one dinger, and that came off the bat of freshman Mitchell Solis.

Kerens beats you the old fashioned way, good pitching, good defense, and a small ball attack that just buries teams. The Bobcats are hitting .333 as a team with a amazing .495 on-base-percentage and once they're on base they run like crazy.

“If you get on I'm sending you,'' Engel said. “We want to keep the pressure on their defense.''

Boy, do they. The Bobcats have stolen 92 bases in 14 games. Anderson has 22 steals and Warren has swiped 20. Sayles has stolen a dozen.

And they're stealing the hearts of the Kerens fans, who are pulling for a playoff run.

The kids believe it's coming.

“We've just gotten better and better and we are drastically better on defense. From our freshman year till now we are 10 times better on defense,'' Anderson said. “We have more baseball players, guys who played baseball when they were little, instead of guys just coming out for the baseball team.''

Anderson, who is one of the best receivers in this part of the state in the fall, is a baseball guy down to his bones. He was a second-team All-State player as a sophomore and made the Class 1A All-State first team last year.

He's having a monster season on the mound and at the plate. Anderson, a lefty, is hitting .562 and has an incredible .700 OBP. He's scored 22 runs and driven in 11 to go with his 22 steals. He's even better on the mound, where he is 4-1 with two saves and a 0.84 ERA with swing-and-miss stuff that takes the bats right out of opponents' hands. He has struck out 70 batters in 33 1/3 innings, averaging more than two strikeouts an inning.

“He doesn't throw anything straight,'' Engel said of his ace. “He's developed as a pitcher instead of a thrower. He really worked hard. He played with the Waco Buzz  over the summer and learned some things on the mound. He's learned how to hit his spots. He's a lot better and he's throwing the ball harder, 83-84 mph., and when one pitch is not working he knows how to find the other one.''

Jock, who alternates with Anderson at first base and on the mound, is the No. 2 pitcher and is 5-0 with 3.15 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 20 innings. Both pitchers benefit from a lineup that knows how to score runs. Warren, who plays center field,  is batting .553 with a .646 OBP and has scored 23 runs in 14 games. He has a double and leads the team with two triples. Solis, who plays second base, is batting .391 with .674 OBP and Sayles and Jeremy Gould are both hitting .324 and have each scored 12 runs and driven in 11 runs.

The Bobcats are tough to pitch to throughout the lineup, and their defense makes life miserable for opponents.

“It's all about the process,'' said Engel, who believes his process teaches discipline and fundamentals and in the end produces victories.

“It's the process. We get good pitching, we put the ball in play, we make routine plays. We just want to stick to the process,'' he said. “And they do a very good job of that.''

Now they just need to take the next step — winning the first district title in 34 years and making a run in the playoffs.

“It's really important that we win district,'' Anderson said. “We set goals every year. This year it's to be  district champions and see how far we can go. Our goal is always to do better than last year.

“I feel we have a chance, if we play to our ability, we can (make a deep run). I feel we legitimately can go to the fourth round.''

Or maybe further. That's the idea at Kerens, where the kids on the diamond take it step by step …


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