There really is no place like home. Just ask Tarleton State senior baseball players and Stephenville natives Cy Williams and P.J. Burns.
Williams and Burns have both bounced around in their collegiate careers since graduating from Stephenville High School, but now, both are back in Stephenville - just in time to play roles in the apparant turning of the corner by the Tarleton baseball program.
As of Sunday, the Texans were still in Canyon hoping the weather would allow them to play their four-game series against West Texas A&M. Entering the series, Tarleton has an overall record of 16-15-1 and a Lone Star Conference mark of 12-10-1. The Texans are aiming for their first winning season since 2001.
Williams, who began his collegiate career at Angelo State where he redshirted for a year before going to Lonn Morris Junior College on a scholarship for a year and then to Texas A&M-Kingsville for 1-1/2 years, has proven to be one of the Texans’ primary offensive weapons with a .312 batting average and an on-base percentage of .353. He has 29 hits, a pair of home runs, 13 RBI and a slugging percentage of of .473. The catcher also has a fielding percentage of .975.
“I wasn’t really happy (in Kingsville) so I called (then head coach Trey) Felan and asked him about coming home and he said ‘come on,’” Williams says of returning to Stephenville. “And this year, with (first year head coach Bryan) Conger taking over, it’s been awesome.”
Burns, a right-handed pitcher who went from Stephenville to McLennan Community College in Waco to NCAA Division I UT-Arlington before returning to Tarleton as a senior, is tied for the team lead in starts with eight. He has an ERA of 5.96 while striking out 25 hitters in 45.1 innings.
“It’s great to be back where our families are,” said Burns. “It’s nice to finish our careers here where we grew up.”
The senior Texans agree that Conger’s leadership and team chemistry have been the critical components helping to bring the team where it currently stands. After starting the season 9-13-1, Tarleton has won seven of its last nine, including a four game sweep of East Central that lifted the Texans to fourth place in the LSC standings.
“Coach Conger is such a perfectionist,” says Williams. “He demands that we get the little things done and that we do them the right way. He tells us not to worry about doing the extraordinary, just take care of all the ordinary things. When we do that, we win.”
Conger’s background as an assistant before accepting the head coaching vacancy at Tarleton last spring came as a pitching coach, which was the position he held at Division I Utah last year. If anyone knows about him being a perfectionist, its Burns and the Texan hurlers.
“Making him happy is tough, but that’s how it should be,” Burns says. “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”
As for the chemistry, Williams says, “Weve really gelled. We have a great companionship with each other.”
“There’s a lot of maturity on this team,” Burns says. “We’re all working hard twoard the same goal and we’re holding each other accountable.”
After battling West Texas A&M, Tarleton still has four-game conference series against Texas A&M-Kingsville, Central Oklahoma, Southwestern Oklahoma and Abilene Christian, as well as non-conference match-ups with St. Mary’s and Incarnate Word. The 16 league games give the Texans plenty of time to make up ground on third-place Cameron (16-8 in LSC) and second-place Angelo State (17-7).
Both seniors say continuing to do the little things consistently will be the key to continuing the stretch run that has Tarleton climbing in the league standings.
“Consistency is the biggest thing,” says Williams. “We’ll have a really good weekend and get to feeling comfortable and get out of our element. We have to continue to focus on doing the little things every time.”
Williams, who graduates in May and hopes to get into the insurance business so he can sell insurance to teachers and stay close to schools and sports, knows the ability is there for a big run to close out the season.
“We had to get out of the mentality of being used to losing, and we’ve done that,” he says. “We really have a total different mental aspect now.”
Burns adds, “We may not be the most talented team, but we believe we can beat anybody.”
Getting to do it at home makes it that much sweeter.
“We get to finish our careers in our hometown,” says Williams. “Not many people get to do that.”