Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

April 18, 2013

Spring Fever: Seniors lead Bobcats from doldrums to Top 10

KERENS — Ask them. Go ahead. Ask the seniors on the state’s ninth-ranked baseball team what kind of town they live in.

“People think of us more as a basketball town,” DJ Kamp said.

“Used to be a football town,” Michael Kline chimed in.

Said Ian Salas, a transfer this year from Ennis, “When I moved here, it was basketball this, basketball that.”

Yeah, maybe. It’s warranted. Kamp, Kline and Salas are three of five seniors who have Kerens fans talking baseball, flocking to the field to watch a team that won a single game four years ago but has already clinched a third straight playoff season. At 14-3, the Bobcats are ranked No. 9 in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s latest poll released Thursday.

They were No. 7 until Tuesday, when they suffered a tough 3-2 loss to Martin’s Mill. Nevertheless, the Bobcats are still in the midst of one of the program’s finest seasons.

“I think (the loss) was good for the team,” senior left fielder Kevin Townsell said. “We know we’re not invincible.”

If anyone on the team knows about understanding what it takes to win big games, it’s Townsell, one of three basketball players that also plays baseball. Why is Kerens a basketball town? Last year’s run to the state tournament helped, and the Bobcats have dominated the area scene, winning seven straight Kiwanis Classic championships.

But to say it’s a basketball town is selling it short, head coach Jayson Engel said.

“Kerens is just a competitive town,” Engel said. “Throw something out there, and we’ll compete.”

This is the third year in a row all of the boys sports have qualified for the playoffs, Engel said. Three years ago, every sports team in the school did.

But you can’t go back four years, to the 2010 season.

“We won one game all year,” Engel said.

The Bobcats were 2A at the time, and in a district with Mildred, Sunnyvale and Edgewood, or in other words, baseball heavyweights.

Credit for the turnaround can be found in a number of areas. Engel said he considers third-year assistant coach Brady Tyson his equal, a 50/50 deal. Engel no longer has to handle every aspect of the program.

“He’s a major part of the turnaround,” Engel said.

Salas insisted Engel shouldn’t be sold short. When the team loses focus, he’s the one who sharpens it.

Engel and Tyson preach process over outcome, the players said. Do the right things, and let the results speak for themselves.

It has.

The pitching is better. The defense better. The team is looser. Chemistry is great. The work ethic is there, led by the seniors, Engel said.

“For me, this is the most complete team I have ever played on,” said Kamp, the team’s second-leading hitter and last year’s district defensive player of the year.

The pitching actually starts with a junior, Brett Anderson, who is 5-1 with a 1.28 ERA. He was on the mound March 26 when Kerens beat then-fourth-ranked Cayuga, 2-1. Sophomore Zach Duncan (2-0) and Kline (3-1) are considered No. 2s.

Defensively, the Bobcats are light-years ahead of 2010.

“Before, we’d be happy to be under five errors,” Engel said. “Now, we shoot for two or less.”

“We used to make one error,” Kline said, “and it turned into three or four.”

Last year, the team’s fifth senior, Dylan Woods, was the third baseman until his brother DJ, who graduated, was the Bobcats catcher. But DJ was hurt, and Dylan took his place.

“Once he became our catcher, our team became better,” Engel said. “He’s so good back there.”

The Bobcats have a non-district game Friday at home, a place suddenly fun to play. In 2010, you might have parents only at the games, Kamp said. Now, the students have to sit in the visitor’s stands to accommodate everyone, Kline said.

“It’s nice to always have full stands,” Woods said.

It’s also nice to have a road following, and to be playing in meaningful games this late in the year. Hopefully, there will be a good trail of green and white supporters on 287 next week, Engel said, when the Bobcats travel to Cayuga for the district title.

Both are 11-1 in district.

A district championship would be icing on the regular season cake.

“This has been an unbelievable year,” Kamp said. “Coach Tyson is always telling me, ‘Let’s make this and unbelievable year.’”

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