Their numbers are gaudy, almost unreal video-game-like numbers and the way the media covers Colleyville Heritage's high school baseball team and Bobby Witt Jr., it seems as if the Panthers are an MLB team in the making.
There's not one big league player's son on the team, but two, and Bobby Witt's son is not just a big league player's kid, but a future big league player.
He's the No. 1 high school player in the nation, and was chosen as the No. 2 overall pick in the MLB draft Monday night.
Witt Jr., who was drafted by Kansas City, could be a millionaire by the time Corsicana's Tigers take the field against him and his teammates Thursday afternoon in the Class 5A state semifinals at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
Witt Jr. was the first high school player to ever become a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is college baseball's Heisman Trophy, and one big league scout recently said Witt Jr. is the best looking high school shortstop since Alex Rodriguez came out of Florida as the No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft.
And there's a lot more than just Bobby Jr.
Heritage is so loaded with talent, including former Ranger outfielder Rusty Greer's son, Mason Greer, that USA Today has had the Panthers ranked in the Top 10 in the nation all year.
The Panthers (37-3) will take the field Thursday ranked No. 3 in the nation, a week after Witt Jr. was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
That's what Corsicana's Tigers are up against this week when they show up at Dell Diamond in Round Rock to face Heritage in the 5A state semifinals.
The winner moves on to Saturday's state title game against the winner of nationally-ranked Georgetown and Mission Pioneer.
But a funny thing happened at Price Field Monday afternoon.
Nobody was talking about Bobby Jr., or Heritage's national ranking.
It was business as usual with the Tigers — if anything can be usual for these kids who have made this remarkable run through the playoffs to become the first Tiger team to get this far since the 1958 Tigers played for the state title.
They spent all weekend floating 10 feet off the ground after sweeping Midlothian in back-to-back games Friday afternoon at Dallas Baptist University, where they came back to win Game 1 with a dramatic two-run sixth inning that lifted them to a 2-1 win, and then won Game 2 in extra innings, somehow picking each other up just the way they have all year after Midlothian came back and knotted the score 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh.
It took a great throw from left fielder Blake Hoffman and a better catch and tag from shortstop Lane Fuentes to nail down the final out in the seventh as Fuentes ran down a runner between second and third to send the game to the eighth, where the Tigers sent eight to the plate and won 7-4 with yet another dramatic and emphatic comeback that has defined their season.
Sure, they walked on air over the weekend, floating on their Region title, but their feet were firmly back on the ground Monday at Price, grinding out at-bats and running through drills. There was no time to worry or think about where Bobby Witt was going to be drafted. It was all about good old-fashioned Tiger baseball, old-school drills and discipline – the very stuff that got them here.
“I'm been preaching the same thing for the eight years I've been here,” said Tiger coach Heath Autrey as he watched batting practice Monday, “We don't play the opponent. We play against the ball, staying focused on the ball and playing the game the right way.
“I've known coach Alan McDougal and been friends with him for 20 years, and I'm proud of him and his kids for being the first team from Heritage to get to the state tournament. We both use Brian Cain, who teaches mental preparation, and I think it's pretty cool that two Brian Cain teams are facing each other in the state semifinals.”
Autrey knows how talented Heritage is. The Panthers have pedigree players and star high school players who have had monster seasons. Their team batting average is .362. They have combined for 400 hits in 40 games and hit 43 home runs while stealing 59 bases and scoring 348 runs. The team ERA is 1.82.
All their numbers are off the charts, but that's what comes from putting together a 37-3 season and pounding opponents every week. Witt is hitting .496 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs. He has 38 extra-base hits and scored 63 runs. Mason Greer, Rusty's son, is hitting .351 with seven homers and 37 RBIs, but two other players have driven in at least 35 runs: Nick Balsano is hitting .421 with 36 RBIs and Chandler Freeman is batting .365 with six homers and 41 RBIs.
Heritage's pitchers have struck out 276 batters in 254 innings, led by Austin Glaze, who has 101 Ks in 76 2/3 innings and a 12-0 record and 0.82 ERA. Aidan Caputti is 9-0 with 49 Ks in 59 innings with a 0.59 ERA.
But it's still a seven-inning game, and even though the national ranking and national media's coverage of Witt Jr. make Heritage one of the most unique teams in the nation, the Panthers have lost three games, and upsets happen in baseball at every level.
“I know it's Davis and Goliath,” Autrey said. “But our kids know they have to play our game, and a lot of our kids are on summer teams that travel around the country and play in big games in big environments.”
Corsicana second baseman Miguel “Mikie” Luevano is ranked as the No. 9 player in Texas in his 2022 class, and some scouts feel Luevano will move up that list in the future.
But Thursday's semifinal game isn't about rankings or prospect lists. It's about making pitches, making plays and clutch hitting.
“The big thing for us is not letting the moment get too big,” Autrey said. “The key is not to let the environment control your emotions. You can't control your performance unless you control yourself.
“You can't let the big picture affect your game. We've got to play the game pitch by pitch. We can't give a team like this extra outs. We've got to make good pitches and play defense.”
That's nothing new for the Tigers. That's exactly the formula that has gotten them here: good pitching , great defense and clutch hitting.
“Our team is built around close games,” Autrey said. “We want it to be close. We're built on our defense. We just can't give them extra outs.”
By the way, back in 1993 when Alex Rodriguez was the No. 1 player in the nation, his high school team was coming off back-to-back state titles and was the USA Today's No. 1 team in the nation when A-Rod was a junior.
Everyone expected that high school team to win another state title.
It didn't. Rodriguez's team was knocked off by Cardinal Newman, a small Catholic high school in West Palm Beach.