Katy High has come to be known in Texas as a football school. The Tigers have claimed four Class 5-A state championships on the gridiron and have won 10 or more games an incredible 17 times.
So it might come as some surprise to people outside the Houston area to learn the Tigers also play a little baseball. In 20 years under the direction of head coach Tom McPherson, Katy has been a mainstay in the regional playoffs, reaching the postseason 12 consecutive seasons and making it to at least the regional quarterfinals seven times. This season, McPherson eclipsed the 500 career-victory plateau.
So how is it that the Tigers’ baseball tradition has gone relatively unnoticed? Until 2006, Katy High had never been to the state tournament. In the competitive Lone Star State, the final four is the accomplishment all schools are judged by. The state’s top programs make it there with regularity. Those that don’t are chasers in the race of Texas powerhouse programs.
In 2006, Katy took a step toward changing its reputation. Behind a group of mostly underclassmen, the Tigers slugged their way through the strong group of Houston teams–many of which had more experienced rosters–to become the Region III state qualifier. They reached the championship game with a 2-0 semifinal win over Moody High of Corpus Christi, a program that has taken up permanent residence in the final four neighborhood over the years.
The Tigers fell 5-3 in the title game to national champion The Woodlands High, but the statement was made: Katy was no longer just a football school, but a legitimate contender in the pursuit for statewide as well as national baseball notoriety.
“We’re blessed here at Katy that we do have some good programs, other than just football,” McPherson said. “But until last year we never had broken that plateau and gotten up there.”
Because Texas’ postseason often comes down to best-of-three series, pitching depth has long been the key to advancing. In years past, good Katy clubs have been bumped off because they relied on one or two quality pitchers, without much behind them.
Last season McPherson and his staff had more than enough pitching to go around, and it showed with four of their six playoff-round victories coming in the third game of best-of-three series.
This year, the Tigers have a stable full of horses once again. Seven of last year’s starting eight position players and four of the top five pitchers are back, and Katy ranked No. 1 in the state in the preseason and No. 11 in the most recent Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 25 behind an 18-3 start. Where they had the opportunity to sneak up on people last season, McPherson discovered quickly this spring that his team is in the crosshairs of every team on its schedule.
“Last year, a lot of it we did fly under the radar,” McPherson said. “We have had a good program, but we haven’t beaten the giants. If anything, we’re going to have to work harder this year. We’ve played 21 ball games and we have seen everyone’s ace except two.”
While the Tigers defense has committed costly errors in their three losses, their lineup is loaded. Seven members of a talented senior class have already signed college letters of intent, led by lefthander Aaron Daab (Texas A&M), shortstop Carter Jurica (Kansas State), second baseman Michael Fuda (Rice) and center fielder Bret Atwood (Texas State). Jurica and Fuda were each named to the all-tournament team at last year’s final four, and Daab spun a three-hit, six-strikeout shutout in the semifinal win over Moody.
Fuda was batting .500 (34-for-68) and was flanked by Atwood (.373) and Jurica (.462) atop the Katy batting order. Sophomore catcher Andrew Stumph (.418, 29 RBIs), arguably the team’s best professional prospect, and senior Nick Pepitone (.424) hold down the heart of Katy’s order.
Daab says the team has a little something extra as well. The Tigers have something more to prove, to themselves and to the entire state. They want to show they can finish the job.
“We didn’t feel like we could get that far last year, so this year we had a whole new mentality coming into the year,” Daab said. “We’ve worked real hard. And hopefully we’ll go win the state championship this year.”
–JASON BECKER, Inside Prep Baseball
AROUND THE NATION
• Katy (Texas) High has plenty of competition among Texas’ top teams this season, as No. 10 Klein-Collins High (Spring, Texas), No. 13 Langham Creek High of Houston and No. 17 Round Rock (Texas) High all made their way into the latest poll. Another state title contender, Prestonwood Christian Academy, won its first 17 games and was outscoring its opponents 171-15. The private school from Plano, Texas, boasts powerful senior catcher/first baseman Cameron Rupp, a Texas signee, as well as Hunter Hill, a senior pitcher bound for Central Florida. Righty Jordan Swagerty has dialed his fastball into the low-90s, and is one of the state’s top juniors.
• Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High was off to a 5-1 start and ranked No. 20 in the latest BA/NHSBCA Top 25. Given the Gaels’ youthful roster, they could be a mainstay among the nation’s title contenders. A pair of sophomores paced the early-season success–center fielder Joey Rickard and first baseman Jeff Malm. It was Rickard’s pinch-hit single in the bottom of the seventh inning of last year’s Nevada Class 4-A championship game that sealed Bishop Gorman’s state title, and he’s dovetailed that moment with impressive hitting and speed as the team’s everyday leadoff man this season. Malm, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, led the team in most offensive categories a year ago and is already garnering attention from some of the nation’s top Division I colleges. “He may be the best hitter to come out of the state of Nevada,” coach Chris Sheff said.
Sheff is well qualified to sing such praise. The Laguna Hills, Calif., product manned center field for Pepperdine’s 1992 national title team and was drafted in the 10th round by the Marlins in 1993 and spent 10 seasons in professional baseball with Florida, Oakland, Cincinnati and the Mets.
• A school district committee ruled in favor of two brothers in a hearing to declare the students’ athletic eligibility after they transferred high schools. Tobias and Seth Streich were granted immediate athletic eligibility after the brothers relocated from Ridgway (Pa.) High to nearby Johnsonburg (Pa.) High. The Streich’s maintained their reason for transferring was personal, and unrelated to their athletic ambition. Tobias, a senior catcher, is ranked No. 129 among high school seniors by BA’s Prospects Plus, and has committed to West Virginia. Ridgway and Johnsonburg could meet during the Elk County Tournament in May in St. Mary’s, Pa.
• No. 18 Chatsworth defeated Kennedy 5-1 at Southern California’s Dedeaux Field in a rematch of last year’s Los Angeles City Division II championship game. Senior Mike Moustakas hit a monstrous two-run home run to right field in the fourth inning, his sixth home run in seven games. Chatsworth (5-2) also got a home run from senior right fielder Bobby Coyle.