The Dallas Morning News

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL PREVIEW

- By MICHAEL FLOREK Staff Writer mflorek@dallasnews.com

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Southlake Carroll isn’t so young anymore: Last season, Southlake Carroll entered the season with a new coach, Larry Vucan, and three players who had varsity experience. All it did was make a run to the state tournament.

This year, Vucan has a lot coming back in season No. 2 — six regular contributo­rs and a number of other seniors who saw experience in different roles. But there is still one thing missing as Carroll heads into this season — the leadership provided by those three graduated seniors.

Playing in District 5-6A, full of powerhouse­s such as Flower Mound, Flower Mound Marcus, and Hebron, Vucan said that was often the difference for Carroll last season.

“It’s just going to come down to those tight games — especially in district — whether you’ve got that little extra leadership,” Vucan said. “We had that last year. It’s to be determined [this year] quite honestly.”

Vucan said having the experience of a state tournament and knowing what it takes to get there gives him confidence that this team will find that leadership eventually. It also has no shortage of candidates.

Junior LHP Cutter Sippel was SportsDayH­S’ newcomer of the year last season and is orally committed to TCU. Second baseman Cade Bell will likely move to shortstop as the two corner infielders — first baseman Nik Milsap and third baseman Cole Johnson — return as well. Two outfielder­s return in Adam Stephenson and Will Quillen, while Nicco Cole will join Sippel in leading Carroll from the mound.

As a group, the pressure and expectatio­n to reach the state tournament is there, but Vucan said he hasn’t noticed it affect the team.

“Kids are kids,” Vucan said. “They just play the game.” Can D-FW get back on top? From 2014-16, the D-FW area had at least two baseball state champions each year. Then came the Great Heartbreak of 2017.

Three area teams arrived in Round Rock: Frisco Wakeland, Southlake Carroll and Grapevine.

Frisco Wakeland let a lead slip away in the semifinals. Southlake Carroll’s surprise run ended after a controvers­ial balk call in the semifinals. Grapevine’s bid for back-of-back state titles came up one game short. The Dallas area claimed zero state championsh­ips.

This season, the area has reloaded with a number of contenders. Southlake Carroll, Rockwall, Prosper, Forney, Grapevine, Mansfield Legacy and Argyle all were ranked in their respective classes in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Associatio­n preseason poll. Will one — or multiple teams — be the ticket that gets the area another championsh­ip?

Will Grapevine make a thirdstrai­ght trip to the state tournament? Two years ago, a Grapevine team made up of mostly juniors made a state championsh­ip run. Last year, that core group of seniors made another trip to the state tournament, losing in the championsh­ip.

The most successful group of seniors the school has ever seen is now gone. Can Grapevine find that magic again? It still has some talent to work with.

Senior pitcher Brett Squires and senior catcher Jonathan Hearn were first-team all-district last year, while outfielder Nick Pierce is a UTArlingto­n signee. Rockwall vs. Rockwall-Heath rivalry: Rockwall and Rockwall-Heath

have long been powerhouse­s, but this year, the rivalry could go to another level.

Both have the majority of their starters returning from clubs that made the regional semifinals a year ago.

Rockwall has 11-6A MVP Brooks Helmer, a Baylor signee, back as well as all-district players Diego Muniz and Bennett Laurence. On the other side, Kansas State signee Cole Stilwell will catch one of the top pitching duos in the area in Kaden Krowka and Anderson Needham.

Last year, the teams came up one round short of playing one another for a chance to go to the state tournament. Will this be the year they make that happen? How far will Forney’s two stud

pitchers take it? Speaking of top pitching duos, it will be tough to find a better one in the state than at Forney with seniors Jonathan Childress and Mason Englert. Both prospects are committed to Texas A&M and both posted an ERA under 1.00 last season. In addition, Childress is probably the top MLB draft prospect in the area.

The question now is whether they’ll have enough around them to make it to the state tournament. Forney advanced to the regional semifinals last season before losing a decisive Game 3 to Mansfield Legacy. With six starters returning, they’re hoping that will be enough.

Preseason All-Area Team

P Jonathan Childress, Forney: The Texas A&M signee posted a 0.48 ERA last season while striking out 137. In 13 starts last season, Childress threw three no-hitters, including one five-inning perfect game in which he struck out all 15 batters he faced.

C Cole Stilwell, Rockwall-Heath: Stilwell was a second-team all-area selection as a junior after posting a .400 batting average with 61 RBIs and four home runs. The Kansas State pledge will help lead a Heath team that should be a contender this season.

IF Bobby Witt Jr., Colleyvill­e Heritage: The junior is one of the top players in his 2019 class and figures to be a top pick in the 2019 MLB draft. He has two years left to improve on what has already been a stellar career at Heritage. Last season Witt posted a 1.422 OPS with a .513 on-base percentage.

IF Diego Muniz, Rockwall: An Oklahoma signee, Muniz hit .411 with a .547 OBP as he helped Rockwall reach the regional semifinals last season. In addition to playing shortstop, Muniz was also one of District 11-6A’s top pitchers last season.

IF Jose Gutierrez, Arlington Lamar: Intimidati­ng at 6-2, 230 pounds, Gutierrez hit .340 last year and helped Lamar upset state-ranked Keller in the playoffs to reach the second round for the first time since 2008. Now the Dallas Baptist signee will be tasked with taking Lamar even further this season despite the fact that just four starters return.

IF Jaden Woodson, Jesuit: The son of former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson led Jesuit last year with a .355 average, including three triples as a sophomore. He also stole a team-high 29 bases. Woodson is already committed to Texas.

OF Dillon Carter, Argyle: While just a junior, Carter has long been on the radar. He picked up an offer and pledged to TCU before last year. That sophomore season proved to be a good one as Carter hit .514 with an .857 slugging percentage and 25 RBIs.

OF Nick Pierce, Grapevine: Despite playing on a senior-laden team last year, Pierce found a way to stand out, posting a 1.021 OPS with 12 doubles and eight triples. Pierce, a UT-Arlington signee, will now be a veteran on a team without a ton of experience.

OF Bennett Laurence, Rockwall: Laurence was an all-district selection last year in highly competitiv­e 11-6A and helped his club team advance to the Connie Mack World Series last summer. Laurence will be a preferred walk-on at Oklahoma.

Utility Mateo Gil, Keller Timber Creek: Gil proved himself to be one of the top twoway players in the state last season. On the mound, Gil posted a 0.67 ERA. At the plate he posted a 1.062 OPS. Gil, the son of former Rangers shortstop Benji Gil, is signed to TCU.

Other teams to watch

Mansfield Legacy: The core group that led Legacy to the regional finals returns. Seniors Ryan Hill (1.54 ERA), Damian Munoz (3.23 ERA) and David Vargas (.338 average) have started since their sophomore years. Combine that with a group of stellar juniors and Legacy should have a chance to contend again. Catcher Nate Rombach is one of the area’s top players in his class of 2019. Nathan Rooney was all-district as a sophomore last season. Payton Cathey posted a 1.31 ERA. Jalen Catalon, is a top football recruit in the Class of 2019 and will be one of the best athletes on the baseball field at all times.

Fort Worth All Saints: After losing in the SPC state semifinals last season, All Saints should be a state title contender as it moves to TAPPS this year. Outfielder Logan Britt, an Oklahoma signee, and pitcher/ infielder Cade Farr, a Texas Tech signee, are back to lead All Saints.

Argyle: Ranked No. 3 in the THSBCA 4A poll, Argyle is loaded with college talent.

In addition to Carter, Argyle has five other players either committed or already signed to colleges, including junior shortstop Brenden Dixon, who has pledged to Texas. Argyle will be one of the deepest 4A teams around on the mound with seniors Bryson Hudgens (Angelo State), Parker Abrego (Southern Arkansas), and junior Sean Bolin (Baylor) all more than capable of dominating opponents.

Colleyvill­e Heritage: Heritage lost a lot from last season, including SportsDayH­S player of the year Alex Scherff, who is now in the Boston Red Sox organizati­on, but the cupboard is far from bare for coach Alan McDougal. A trio of juniors should have Heritage in contention again: Bobby Witt Jr. is one of the top players in the country. Outfielder Jacob Guerrero is a Kansas State commit and was a first-team all-district selection as a sophomore. Catcher Nick Balsano is a Baylor pledge who hit .363 last season. Expect Heritage to contend for the 8-5A title with Grapevine yet again.

 ?? Ashley Landis/Staff Photograph­er ?? Forney has one of the area’s top one-two pitching combinatio­ns with Mason Englert (left) and Jonathan Childress.
Ashley Landis/Staff Photograph­er Forney has one of the area’s top one-two pitching combinatio­ns with Mason Englert (left) and Jonathan Childress.

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