Baseball: Trojans struggling with repeat
South Houston arrived last season.
The Trojans baseball players qualified for the postseason for the first time in 22 years, and they ousted Baytown Sterling in the bi-district round, giving coach Donnie Elliott his first playoff series victory.
And all the area rejoiced.
"It was awesome," Elliott said.
"Our school got really excited and got behind us, the whole community did. We got recognized at the mayor's office. We were on Channel 13, there were articles about us on the Houston 5A website.
"There was a lot of attention to our kids and it was really, really good for the seniors because when they were freshmen we had some tough times, so I was really happy for those kids."
Unfortunately, it took the Trojans a little longer to recover from that season-long celebration than anticipated. And it didn't help that they had to move on without graduated ace Jaime Esquivel.
"This year we've had a little bit of a hangover, so to speak, and the kids have kind of taken it for granted," Elliott said. "I've had to remind that last season is last season, this year is a different season.
"At first, they weren't working as hard as they have in the past, and we've taken measures to correct that."
Those measures included removing a couple of returning players from the team in an effort to strengthen the resolve and focus on the remaining players. And so far it seems to have worked as intended.
The Trojans were 7-4-1 through a dozen games and picking up steam going into district.
"We've played a little bit better than I expected," Elliott said. "We've had some guys step up who've hit the ball better than I thought. We've had some questions answered. But we're still waiting for the bottom guys to come around.
"We're starting district and we still have a couple guys fighting for starting spots, but it's apparent pitching is definitely our strength. We're going to be in every game when we have our (top three) in."
The emergence of seniors Andres Rangel and Felipe Morado and junior Rocky Romero have eased the sting of Esquivel's departure. In fact, he's missed more for his bat and defensive versatility.
Rangel, who led the team in home runs last year, plays third base when he's not pitching. He's become a leader for the Trojans.
"He's turned into our ace on the mound and our cleanup hitter, so he's come in this year a lot more focused than he has in the past," Elliott said.
Morado is playing with new clarity, too, a product of hard work put in last summer. He plays shortstop and third, depending on who's on the mound when he's not.
"He joined the National Guard over the summer and went off for boot camp all summer long, and he comes back and he's just like a completely different kid," Elliott said. "Maturity-wise, it's almost like he's another coach or a grown man out there playing with boys."
Romero's the top addition to the team after missing most of last year with a broken thumb. He also plays second and bats leadoff.
The other top returning player is senior catcher Jo Jo Flores, a solid presence behind the plate.
Senior Brian Lopez, who's fresh off the junior varsity squad, has provided some stability in the outfield, where all three starters from last season graduated.
The other top newcomers are freshmen 1B/P Ruben Guevara and RF/P Nathan Martinez.
The Trojans return to action March 21, with a District 22-5A showdown against Dobie at Maguire Field.
"It's going to be a tough race," Elliott said. "Dobie and Deer Park are the two frontrunners. I think they're a little bit better than the rest of the pack. But it's very even.
"Anybody can beat anybody more so this year than any year in the past."