Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


April 30, 2014

CHS Baseball Bi-district: Young Tigers head into playoffs

Corsicana — Here they are, right smack in the middle of the Class 4A baseball playoffs, which begin Thursday night in Mansfield, where Corsicana's young and not so restless Tigers open a three-game bi-district series against Mansfield Summit.

The youngest team in Heath Autry's days as a Corsicana baseball coach has risen, stumbled at times and emerged as a dangerous and tenacious group in a season no one could have expected to be this good or this exciting.

The Tigers don't start a senior in their lineup, and yet here they are in the playoffs, feeling good about themselves and a season to remember. They would like a few more memories before its over and that starts against a Summit team that finished second in the district and knows how to hit and score runs.

“They can hit,'' Autry said. “Their pitchers throw strikes and they are a really good offensive team.''

Autry's young kids have proven they can score and they take the small ball approach to a new level, driving teams crazy by bunting, hitting and stealing bases. The top of the order sets the tone for a Corsicana team that has proven it can generate and create runs against anyone.

The Tigers first two hitters — shortstop Layton Wolver and center fielder Billy Harlan — have both had monster seasons at the top of the lineup.

Wolver is hitting .439 with a ,535 on-base-percentage and when he gets on base he knows how to steal and how to score. He leads the team in runs, scoring 39 runs in 27 games. Wolver and Harlan have combined to steal 51 bases with Wolver leading the team with 28 steals. Harlan is hitting .412 and has scored 27 runs while driving in 16. He has a .479 OBP.

Those two set the table for Bobby Lopez and sure-handed first baseman who leads the team in home runs (two) and RBI's (23). He's hitting .320.

Trevor Nolen, who has had a big year on the mound and at the plate, is batting .400 with 16 RBI's and a .573 slugging percentage. Third baseman D.J. Minniear is hitting .323 with a pair of homers and 19 RBI's, and he has been solid in the field as well. The left side of the infield (Wolver and Minniear) have made life miserable for opponents and made life a lot easier for Corsicana's pitchers.

Catcher Joe Vazquez has had a big year behind the plate and is hitting .311 with 16 RBI's and Rhett Holcolmb is batting .300  and has scored 26 runs.

Autry knows his kids have grown a lot and have come a long way this season. They went 19-8 and finished third in a tough District 16-4A and contended for the title until the final week of the regular season.

Now he will find out how his young Tigers will play in the postseason.

“I think we're ready,'' Autry said. “It's all going to boil down to our starting pitching. They can hit. If we hold them down the first time through the lineup we'll be all right. Their first four players can really hit''

Corsicana has been tested with a difficult schedule to this point, and the Tigers need to approach this game the same way they have played all year.

“With our young guys, they have to realize it's just a game and play with confidence,'' Autry said. “I think we have played with confidence offensively, and we built confidence through playing close games. And defensive-wise, I feel the same way. Our pitching is going to be the No. 1 thing. They have to get on the mound and trust their mechanics. My main concern is we have to get quality pitching.''

Autry will start Preston Hill in Game 1 on the road and is still undecided about who will start Game 2 on Friday night in Corsicana. If a Game 3 is needed, it will be played at 1:00 p.m. At Summit on Saturday.

Hill is 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA and he has struck out 22 batters in 28 innings. Nolen was the workhorse this season and he went 8-3 with a 1.72 ERA with 37 Ks in 52 innings.

Minniear went 2-2 with a 1.41 ERA. Corbin Hall was used in relief and gave the Tigers a big arm at the end of games. He went 3-1 and struck out 28 batters in 26 innings. But Hall is injured, which means Autry will adjust in the playoffs.

“Losing Corbin hurt us,'' Autry said. “He was our go-to-guy at the end of games. He came in and just pounded the strike zone.''

Autry said he will start Hill and play it by ear.

“We're going to start Preston in the first game and after that just go by committee,'' said Autry. “We have to do whatever we can do to win Game 1.''

It has been a memorable season with so many young kids playing above and beyond.  

“I think we overachieved,'' Autry said. “And I think there are things we can do better. I'm proud of how we responded when we were down and how we executed when we were up.''


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