In 2002, Elkins High of Missouri City, Texas won the 5-A state championship and finished atop the national rankings. The Bears got off to a slow start in 2003, but managed to battle through the playoffs and repeat as 5-A champions.
That is the last time a Texas team won back-to-back state titles in any classification. The level of competition in the state and proverbial target that gets placed on defending champions makes the task of repeating extremely challenging. Lee Yeager, the head coach at Carroll High of Corpus Christi, knew he couldn’t fly under the radar after winning a state title in 2010, but now heads into the season as the No. 1 team in the country.
“We already had a target on our backs!” Yeager said when he received the news.
Like it or not, it’s hard to argue with what Yeager is working with. His team defeated Klein High (Spring, Texas) in the 2010 5-A finals, who was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time and on the verge of claiming a mythical national championship. The win for Carroll was more than just an upset in the rankings. Of the Tigers 10 starters—including the designated hitter—eight were underclassmen. Only righthander/outfielder Marc Blackmar and second baseman Adam Hinojosa have graduated.
Six of those starters were sophomores so Yeager has a core of players that have two seasons remaining and experienced the grind of the Texas state playoffs. They just need to fill some leadership holes and stay focused.
“Six of our starters didn’t drive a car last year,” Yeager joked. “Now they’ve got cars, girls and rings. That’s a bad combination. We need to stay focused and play hard.”
In the past, Yeager and his team would head to the field and start working out on the first day of school. This year, they did things a little differently. They simply met in a room and talked about how they accomplished what they did in the spring and what they needed to do moving forward.
“We have a saying,” Yeager said. “There’s 42 outs—21 offensive outs and 21 defensive outs. You go out and play those as hard as you can.”
Yeager also prevented his players from becoming too confident by making them put away any state champions paraphernalia during the offseason.
Pitching is extremely important with Texas having the option of playing a three-game series during the playoffs. Blackmar and righthander/outfielder Courtney Hawkins filled the first two slots of the rotation last year, so Hawkins will be relied upon as the ace of the staff as well as a leader. Hawkins went 10-2, 2.11 in 80 innings in 2010 while hitting .381 with four home runs and 27 RBIs. Filling the No. 2 role will be righthander/first baseman Oshea Dumes, who went 3-2, 4.37 in 42 innings while hitting .371 with six home runs and 37 RBIs last season. Carroll’s only loss after April 6 came against Austin’s Anderson High in the playoffs. Anderson forced a decisive third game and Carroll handed the ball to Dumes. He pitched a three-hitter and the Tigers never looked back.
Hawkins and Dumes are confident in their team’s potential. Most of the players have been competing together since they were 9 years old. They know how they finished last season doesn’t guarantee anything for the next.
“Our expectations are to just go out there and play ball,” Hawkins said. “We need to work on the little things.”
The little things are going to count because everyone knows Carroll is coming, and they’ll be ready.