Last May’s graduation losses — a baker’s dozen of 13, including seven starters — hit Stephenville High School’s baseball team hard, but head coach Justin Swenson has seen some good things in the Yellow Jackets’ preseason performances.
“What I like so far in our scrimmages is that our (players) do the small things right, and hustle,” Swenson said. “Losing 13 seniors, (it’s) basically a whole new team.”
The loss of seven starters is hard enough to overcome, in itself. But the overall numbers are down as well, with about 13 to 15 expected to make the varsity compared to 22 carried on the 2019 squad.
The Yellow Jackets have completed their scrimmage schedule, and on Saturday will stage their annual Blue/Gold baseball scrimmage at the high school field, set for a 1 p.m. start.
The regular-season schedule for the varsity is scheduled to be in a three-day tournament starting Thursday, Feb. 27, at Hoskins Field in Wichita Falls, taking on Canyon at 4:45 p.m. and Abilene Wylie at 7 p.m.
After a tournament in Kennedale March 5-7 and another one in Wimberly March 12-14, and playing single games at Cleburne March 17 and at Decatur March 20, the Jackets will finally get to enjoy the friendly confines of their own ballpark. That will be March 21, playing host to Kennedale.
Swenson said he and his coaching staff are emphasizing the word “compete” — while encouraging the players to do extra work to improve.
“I would classify them as inexperienced,” said Swenson, who has led the Jackets to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons as coach of the Jackets. “We’ve won three district championships in the last four years, so they know how to play. We’ve got to see how they can do when the lights come on.
“We’re going to be pretty steady defensively, and be pretty deep in our lineup. The area we need to improve on the most is going to be on the pitching mound. I think we’ll be solid defensively, and score some runs.”
The 2019 Jackets finished fourth in the District 7-4A race with a 4-4 mark. They finished the season at 20-7-1 overall when they were eliminated by Decatur in the first (bi-district) round of the playoffs.
Two key returning players who have plenty of starting experience and talent are centerfielder Trace Morrison, and Tyeler Reed, who has signed early to play college baseball as a catcher with Stephen F. Austin University.
Early-season probable starters include Lane West at second base, Cade Wright at shortstop, three-year letterman Daniel Luna at third base (when not pitching), and Case Dunavant in the outfield. Others competing for a spot in the outfield are Bryson Dill and Kyle Styron. Charlie Hughes will play some at third base, when Daniel Luna is pitching, and will also be a designated hitter. Dill also should see playing time at first base.
Among the pitchers, Luna earned first-team all-district last year. Other hurlers in the mix are John-Rex Haile and lefty senior Cole Stanley, who has not played baseball for the Jackets since his sophomore year.
Stephenville is in the five-team District 7-4A baseball alignment with Glen Rose, Brownwood, Godley and Mineral Wells.
Morrison was voted as the district’s Co-Newcomer of the Year for the 2019 season. First-team all-district honors were earned by Luna as a pitcher (1.38 earned run average), and by Reed as an infielder.
“I think we will be in the running for the district championship. To me, Glen Rose is the team to beat,” Swanson said, acknowledging the Tigers have a wealth of pitching talent this season. “In high school, pitching dominates. Last year our bats went cold. We’ve got to be more consistent, and score more runs than we did last year. We will be very aggressive with our base running.”