See also: Final High School Top 50 Poll
ROUND ROCK, Texas–Clutch is not a word those familiar with The Woodlands High baseball program often use to describe the perennial Houston-area power. Since the Highlanders’ Class 5-A Texas state championship club of 2000–a team that featured Rangers prospect Vince Sinisi–the program has consistently failed in those proverbial “clutch” situations.
Despite a wealth of talent and resources that produced district champions, nationally ranked teams, draft picks and a bevy of college players, the Highlanders had failed to advance past the regional semifinals of the Texas playoffs in five years.
So when The Woodlands went down 3-0 after two innings against Midland High in the state semifinals, a feeling of ‘here we go again’ consumed the crowd at Dell Diamond.
Then something happened–something The Woodlands had long been missing.
Trailing 3-2 in the top of the fifth inning, The Woodlands first baseman Brett Parsons delivered a perfect relay throw to catcher Mickey Armstrong to cut down Midland’s Alex Lopez at the plate.
The Highlanders answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning to erase the deficit, their reputation and any doubt about who the nation’s No. 1 high school team of 2006 is.
Following their comeback against Midland, the Highlanders defeated Katy High 5-3 in the 5-A state title game to wrap up the school’s second state championship and its first final No. 1 ranking in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll.
“This group’s a little different this year,” said coach Ron Eastman following the 38-1 season. “They’ve been able to maintain when they’ve been down to teams. This group just has that sense that they’re not going to quit. It’s a great, very unselfish group of guys.”
The Woodlands began the year ranked No. 7 and steadily climbed the rankings as the top teams from California, Florida and Arizona stumbled. By April 3, it had moved into the No. 1 spot and never relinquished the perch.
“They worked hard and came together as a team, really like no other I’ve ever seen,” Eastman said. “It’s very gratifying, and I’m just so happy for this group. They’ve worked so hard to get here. Our teams before this have had great kids and hard workers, but there’s something special when a team comes together.”
In Eastman’s estimation, that happened sometime around March 11, when the Highlanders downed defending 5-A champ Kingwood High 9-1 at the Minute Maid High School Classic at Minute Maid Park. The victory against Kingwood came a week after The Woodlands lost its only game of the season to Flower Mound, and was the fifth of 31 in a row it would tally to finish the championship season. The talented individuals meshed to form a unified team and that–universally voiced by players and coaches alike–was the linchpin.
“The younger guys in this group definitely got along with the older guys better,” said senior righthander Steven Maxwell. “That’s the main thing. We hung out together every single weekend, and we just got along better. When it came down to it, the team was what mattered the most.”
Aptitude And Attitude
Fostering that atmosphere at The Woodlands isn’t easy. From the time players reach high school in Houston they’re well seasoned on the spirit of competition. Youth and prep travel teams endure arduous summer and fall schedules that make Texas’ brand of high school baseball sharp, clean and generally well played. Even though Eastman is annually inheriting underclassmen that are above-average players, they often come from wealthy homes with egos that might match their baseball acumen.
This group had it all, however, playing with talent and chemistry and were led by Kyle Drabek, the son of the 1990 National League Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek. Just 72 hours removed from being the Phillies’ first-round draft pick, Kyle got the win against Midland in the semifinals and hit a three-run homer in the first inning against Katy.
Kyle is as well known for his thunderbolt arm as his combustible temperament, and he etched his name into Texas high school baseball lore by going 14-0, 1.00 as a senior with 1.00 ERA with 155 strikeouts in 91 innings.
In the championship game, however, it was the Texas Christian-bound Maxwell who got the ball and he went the distance against Katy, scattering seven hits to cap a season in which he matched Drabek win for win, and finished 14-0, 1.27.
He and Drabek accounted for 28 of The Woodlands’ 38 wins. Senior third baseman Paul Goldschmidt batted .315-8-44 and was lauded for his leadership, not on easy task on a team with such talent.
Six starters from the title game return next year, including an outfield of Brett Eibner, David Alleman and Taylor Grote, significant pieces as juniors this season. The pieces are in place for Eastman again, and he hopes to clutch them together just as he did this year.