CARY, N.C.--When Forney (Texas) High pitchers Mason Englert and Jonathan Childress showed up at the Tournament of Stars this week, they got essentially the same reaction from every other player there.
"Everybody we talk to especially here is like, 'Y'all are on the same team? How did y'all not win state every year?'" Childress said.
While Forney finished two games shy of going to the state playoffs, Englert and Childress established themselves as two of the top high school pitchers, not just in Texas, but in the country.
This spring, Englert earned First Team All-State honors after posting a 0.70 ERA and striking out 128 batters with just 12 walks. Childress was equally dominant, with a 0.48 ERA and 137 strikeouts.
Englert, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound righthander, and Childress, a 6-4, 217-pound lefty, both earned invitations to the Tournament of Stars along with 78 other top high school players.
"It's a lot of fun," Englert said. "We play against each other and with each other. It's cool to have someone you're real good friends with here. We're just trying to help each other become better players and push each other all the time."
Childress and Englert have known each other since Englert moved to Forney in the seventh grade. Englert's father, Tom, said Childress was the one who basically welcomed the new kid at the lunch table. And they’ve been friends ever since.
Tom, a resident pitching instructor at Elite Swing Academy, started developing his son into a pitcher almost as soon as he could pick up a baseball. When the Englerts moved to Forney, he began coaching Childress as well.
When they first met, Englert was much more advanced than Childress. While Englert played on the top travel team at Elite Swing Academy, Childress was on the second team. However, Tom saw potential in Childress, who despite consistency issues still had a live arm.
"From 13-14 years old, I told his dad, this guy could be a college kid, he might be draftable at some point in his life," Tom said. "I said this guy's special. Getting Jonathan to believe that was the biggest thing."
Things started to click for Childress during his freshman year at Forney. He started on the freshman team because he had been playing basketball during the winter. During Childress' only start on the freshman team, Forney coach Jason Farrow got a text from an assistant at the game: “You're not going to believe this.”
Soon after that text, the tall lefty got a call up and was with Farrow on the varsity team. In his first appearance, he came out of the bullpen and struck out every batter he faced.
"I started pitching instead of just throwing," Childress said. "All the credit to Mason's dad, who's like my pitching coach. He just worked hard with me and it's paid off."
"He's turned into a big, lefthanded stud," Mason Englert said.
No slouch himself, Englert’s fastball typically sits around 90-91 mph with sink and cut, but can crank it up to around 94 mph when he needs it. Englert also throws a 12-to-6 curve, slider and changeup, all of which Farrow said he commands just as well.
Childress throws a bit harder, at 93-94, and generates a lot of movement on his fastball, which he pairs with a wipeout breaking ball that frustrated hitters, especially lefties, this week.
Both performed well at the Tournament of Stars despite being a notch below their usual velocities. Englert pitched four innings, allowing six hits and one run while striking out two batters. Childress struck out six batters and gave up two hits in four shutout innings. Neither issued a walk.
"We're completely different," Childress said. "I go off movement because my fastball moves quite a bit. He spots up a lot better than me. He tears people up because he goes in-and-out, in-and-out. He pretty much demolishes the batter, and I just throw the ball and it's sinking, let it do it's own thing."
Childress and Englert could continue pitching at the top of the same rotation even after they leave Forney. They are both committed to Texas A&M.
"It'd be just like it is in high school," Childress said. "Just a great 1-2 punch and we'd still work off each other and learn so much from each other."