It’s early in the season but the Veterans Memorial Patriots baseball team is already turning heads. As of the March 12 Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s (THSBCA) poll the Patriots are the 10th best 5A team in the Lone Star state.
While polls, especially early-season polls, are not much more than fodder for fans to brag about and sports writers to write about, the fact that the Patriots are being looked at as one of the top teams in the state is noteworthy – even if Veterans Memorial head baseball coach Casey Smith and several of his players may not think so.
“We obviously have a set of goals that we share amongst ourselves but we don’t generally like to talk about them,” expressed Smith. “We don’t want to be boastful, we want to stay humble. I can say however that our main goal is to get better every day. That’s what we as coaches are trying to instill in our players and they’ve really adopted that philosophy. Whether we’re playing a game or getting through a practice they’re just trying to get better every day.”
The fact that the Patriots won their first eight games in a row very likely had something to do with their current ranking. However Veterans Memorial then lost their next four games before starting a new mini-winning streak which currently stands at two games – including a 5 – 2 win in their only district game of the season so far against the Sharyland Rattlers.
“We played decent baseball during the eight-game win streak,” Smith said. “We’ve been pitching well and playing defense. Really in all but one game this year we’ve pitched well and played defense and that’s going to keep you around even when you’re not hitting the ball. We haven’t gotten the offensive production we’re used to but our pitching and our defense has been keeping us in games.”
As one of the 10 seniors on the current Patriots’ roster, catcher and utility infielder David de los Santos wasn’t even aware of the fact that his team is state-ranked.
“I wasn’t aware of the state ranking,” explained de los Santos. “I don’t pay attention to polls or to stats. It’s not about stats it’s about how we do each day. It doesn’t even matter how we did yesterday. I just stay focused and take each game one at a time.”
Like de los Santos first baseman and left-handed pitcher Leo Martinez is also a senior. With the other eight members of the team all being sophomores there is an interesting dynamic between the upper classmen and the new-comers that somehow works as team chemistry.
“We have good comradery,” shared Martinez. “You’d think that there would be a divide between the seniors and the sophomores but we’ve worked during the off-season to get games in and to play as a team. We’ve gotten to know each other by playing together and by throwing with someone we might not otherwise want to throw with and that has helped us build good team chemistry.”
Coming off back-to-back district championships followed by back-to-back one-run losses in the final games of best-of-three bi-district playoff series, the Patriots will be working towards winning their first ever playoff series and advancing into the second round this season.
As for whether or not the past two years’ heartbreaking playoff losses are motivating his team to accomplish that goal, Patriots’ third baseman and right-handed pitcher David Gutierrez said, “That does motivate us but so does every game we play. Whether we win or lose we try to get better every game. As for the playoffs we always want to get past the first round and keep moving forward. Coming as close to doing that as we came the past two seasons is motivating us this year.”