Baseball: Bulldogs hitting their stride
The La Porte baseball team struggled in non-district, particularly during three tough tournaments, which had longtime Bulldogs coach Ricky Torres worried going into District 21-5A play.
So no one was happier than him to see his club emerge from the first round of district at 4-1. The Bulldogs were 5-2 last week after two games against Channelview to start the second half of district.
"We've been up and down," Torres said.
"We are 5-2 in district, which is good. We haven't played real well but we've managed to win a few games when we probably shouldn't have, and that's helped out a lot."
Torres expected his team to be better than 11-13 overall through 24 games, but it took time to find the right fit at a few positions, and the Bulldogs have also had to deal with a lack of pitching experience.
They returned two pitchers with experience, but the top returning starter, junior Hunter Milom, has been on junior varsity all season, leaving just Ryan Moye, who also played third base last year, on the mound for La Porte.
"We haven't been able to put it together," Torres said. "We struggle at times with the bat, and we struggle with our pitching, putting people on base, too many walks. That's been the problem."
La Porte graduated catcher Ronnie Newell, first baseman Bradley Brown, designated hitter Dillon Pitts and outfielder Kendrick Perkins last year, leaving 11 returning players and four starters.
Junior shortstop Joshua Vidales, one of the team's top hitters, leads the returners.
"He's been our spark plug obviously," Torres said. "He's a scrappy guy, he's kind of the team leader — he gets after it, he hustles.
"He's been steady on the defensive side, and offensively he's a guy who can surprise you with a home run here or there and who's also going to lay the bunt down and hit the gaper for a triple."
Also back are junior Matt Cavazos, who moved from second, where he started last year, to catcher, senior centerfielder Justin Collins and junior Cameron McDonald, who went from DH to second.
Collins is the leadoff hitter and newcomer Blake Garrett, a sophomore third baseman, hits cleanup.
"He's a big kid but he's not a power-hitter," Torres said. "He's more of a contact kid, line drives, and so that four spot is pretty good for him. He gives us a contact hitter in a spot where we need it."
Torres was concerned early in district.
They scraped past Channelview 9-8 in a mistake-filled district opener, then went 2-3 at the Corpus Christi Calallen tournament, where they were hammered in their final, demoralizing outing.
To top it off, they were shut out by Baytown Sterling in their district return, managing just two hit in a 5-0 loss.
"I was starting to get a little worried about the offense and then all of a sudden, boom, things started clicking," Torres said. "We scored 10 against North Shore and 15 against Port Arthur (Memorial), and then we play (Beaumont) West Brook in a close game and win that one 7-6 on a walk-off home run."
The Bulldogs led 4-0 early only to see the Bruins come back and take a 6-4 lead.
But with two outs in the seventh inning, McDonald hit a three-run homer, giving them their most dramatic win this year.
The second half started with back-to-back games against the Falcons. La Porte had just one hit in the first, a 2-1 loss, and exploded for 11 runs in the second, an 11-1 win.
"It's just been a very up and down kind of year," Torres said. "But the kids are learning, pitchers are learning.
"We're definitely pitching the ball a lot better."
The key now is to play well on the road in the second round.
The Bulldogs beat North Shore and West Brook in the first round, but both game were at home, and both teams are still dangerous.
"We have a chance to win district if we go out and pitch," Torres said. "The old cliché is that pitching and defense (win games), and if we can pitch and play good defense, then we'll be successful.
"We definitely have to get better in the small-ball department. We have to be able to bunt the ball and move runners along, and that's something we didn't do well against Channelview in the 2-1 loss."
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