High Heat: May 1

Once again, Texas’ top-ranked high school team heading into the postseason was The Woodlands, a suburban Houston 5-A powerhouse that is perennially among the state’s best teams.

The Woodlands, which graduated three players from last year’s team to Division I programs, has one of the nation’s most talented high school seniors this year in Kyle Drabek, as well as two D-I signees and at least three others who should play at junior colleges next season.

The top-ranked Highlanders are riding high once again.

An hour northwest of Houston lies the quaint town of Brenham (population 13,500), which is known for two things: Blue Bell ice cream, and Brenham High baseball, the state’s top 4-A team. Not far from the state’s largest creamery is Brenham’s only high school, and for what Brenham’s team lacks in the flash of The Woodlands and Class 5-A schools, it makes up for in gusto.

After debuting at No. 19 in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll in March, the Cubs steadily climbed their way to No. 6. Although both teams secured a first-round bye in the playoffs, The Woodlands and Brenham were scheduled to meet in a scrimmage game May 5 at Sam Houston State in a warm-up game. The contest will not affect postseason seeding, but was highly anticipated as a showdown between the top teams in the state.

The national ranking and the gaudy record–Brenham was 29-1 in the regular season–were things the Cubs have in common with The Woodlands and other top teams in the country. What they don’t have is a roster laden with high-profile players.

“We’ve had a lot of good teams over the years and a lot of good players,” said coach Jim Long, who is in his 11th season at Brenham. “For one reason or another, though, they’re not picked highly out of high school and the big colleges aren’t knocking down the door . . . You’d just think you’d have a few more phone calls with the talented kids we’ve had.”

Seven seniors have led Brenham’s rise this spring, but shortstop Colby Price and lefthander William Kankel are the only two have made college commitments, signing letters of intent to remain in Brenham and attend Blinn Junior College. Price led the team–which owned a .386 average–with a .489 mark, while Kankel, the No. 2 starter on a pitching staff that had 200 strikeouts and 33 walks, was 7-0, 0.87 with 60 strikeouts and four walks in 40 innings.

Although college coaches have not raced to Brenham, high school coaches who have seen them play say they’re easily the state’s top 4-A club. And Brenham has proven it against more talented teams from the state’s highest classification. The Cubs opened the season with a 12-1 thumping of Taylor High of Katy, then dispensed of 5-A teams Clear Creek, Humble, Houston’s Westside, Moody High of Corpus Christi and Cy-Fair.

Humble coach David Sitton, whose club dropped a 1-0 decision to The Woodlands not long after falling 20-4 to Brenham, was convinced the Cubs deserved to be considered among the nation’s best.

“They’re very comparable,” Sitton said. “Both have very good pitching staffs, but I believe Brenham swings the bats better. You look at some of the teams they’ve beaten . . . There’s no question they have a good chance to win the 4-A state championship.”

Which is a feat this town once celebrated regularly, but has been missing for 17 years.

Back On Track

In 1966, Brenham made its first of 13 state tournament appearances with a roster that included Jack Heidemann at shortstop and Cecil Cooper at first base. Heidemann was a first-round draft pick by the Indians in 1967 and became the youngest player in the majors two years later when he was promoted to Cleveland as a 19-year-old. His major league career ended before he was 30, however, as he was a career .211 hitter. Cooper, meanwhile, became a five-time all-star with the Brewers.

In 1970, Brenham won its first of six state titles, a run that included three consecutive crowns from 1986-88. But it’s been almost 20 years since the Cubs have finished as Texas’ top team, and the community is hopeful the streak will come to a stop this year.

Part of the Cubs’ recipe for success has been an outstanding feeder system and unparalleled community support. For years, baseball games–from Brenham varsity tilts to Little League matchups–have been broadcast in Brenham on local AM radio. The Brenham Banner-Press newspaper provides detailed Cubs game stories and player features throughout the season, and its season preview included a 1,700-word season prospectus, complete with position-by-position player capsules.

“It is a little different here to say the least,” said Long, 53, who grew up south of Houston in Texas City and played at Division-III Mary Hardin-Baylor. “A lot of people in Texas think football is No. 1. But not in this town. The community backing is second to none. Kids grow up wanting to continue the tradition that we have here.”

To have such a winning tradition is remarkable, but it is extraordinary considering the modest success of Brenham alumni. Since 1967, Cooper is one of 23 former Cubs to play professionally, but he is the only one to sustain success in the major leagues. The list of Brenham players who went on to play in college is much longer, but also doesn’t feature many household names.

Jon Peters was one of the most successful high school pitchers in history while anchoring Brenham’s staff from 1986-89. He holds the national record for consecutive victories with 53 and ranks eighth all-time with 54 career high school wins. He made a stop at Blinn JC and moved on to Texas A&M, where he never earned a varsity letter.

Dustin Majewski, who was playing in Class A for the Blue Jays this spring, was a significant part of Texas’ 2002 College World Series team after two seasons at Blinn. “He had 78 RBIs in (1999 as a senior), hit 12 home runs and we didn’t have one D-I school come calling, other than Sam Houston State,” Long said. “And A&M is only 40 minutes away. It’s difficult for me to explain.”

Finding an explanation for why Brenham hasn’t produced many future stars isn’t easy. But for the next six weeks, the players, coaches and fans of the beloved program will be concerned only with the present. And there isn’t a more appropriate place for the cream to rise to the top.


• Flanagan High of Pembroke Pines, Fla., Florida’s defending Class 6-A champion, was one of two teams to trip up Monsignor Pace High of Opa Locka, Fla. Monsignor Pace fell out of the top 10 in the BA/NHSBCA poll for the first time this season after Flanagan senior righthander Glenn Witkowski won his 24th consecutive game in a 3-1 victory. Witkowski, a Jacksonville signee who was 8-0 this season, was 29-2 since his sophomore season. With two regular season games remaining, Flanagan (19-3) was ranked No. 7, with its three losses coming by a total of three runs.

• Palmetto (Fla.) High won the Westminster Baseball Fever II Invitational Tournament by defeating Miami’s Brito High 4-1 in the championship game. Palmetto’s Pierce Rukrigl allowed one unearned run in seven innings to earn the win and tournament MVP honors.

• Palo Alto (Calif.) High had won four consecutive home games, under unusual circumstances. A red cone was placed in center field, indicating the area around it was not in play because a bird made a nest there, which it defended, aggressively, each time a player approached. “The toughest part is explaining it to the visiting coach with a straight face,” Palo Alto coach Joel Kaufman said.

• Benet Academy (Lisle, Ill.) defeated Carmel High of Mundelein, Ill., 3-0 to win the Schaumburg Flyers Classic. Benet senior Connor Powers was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. The Mississippi State signee was 1-0 on the mound and 4-for-9, with two home runs and six RBIs at the plate.