When Brady Delgado’s liner sailed into the glove of a Sharyland outfielder, effectively ending Tivy’s 2019 season in the regional semifinals, Coleson Abel was upset, but he wasn’t distraught.
No one enjoys losing a heartbreaker in the playoffs. At the same time, however, the junior left-handed pitcher began to turn his attention to 2020; he knew the Antlers weren’t going to have to wait long until they received another opportunity to make a deep playoff run.
“I knew we were still going to have guys come in and do what they do,” Abel said.
And those same guys enter the 2020 season with ginormous expectations. The Antlers return 10 contributors from last year’s team and begin the season ranked No. 6 in Diamond Pro’s Class 5A state poll. They play five scrimmages before opening the season on Feb. 25 against Seguin.
And Abel’s maturation on the mound is a big reason why Antlers have a chance to be special this season. Last season, he posted a 2.88 ERA in 41.1 innings as a sophomore. He wanted to be even better this season, so he trained with his pitching coach Colter Bostick in the fall when he wasn’t at football practice. His repertoire consists of four pitches (fastball, slider, curveball and changeup), and the velocity on his fastball reached 87 miles per hour during a recent bullpen session. In Tivy’s first scrimmage against Class 6A Churchill
High School, he only needed 10 pitches to retire the side.
And here’s more good news for Tivy: Abel isn’t the only experienced pitcher on staff. Seniors Cole Miears and Colten Drake both pitched more than 35 innings last season and posted sub-2.00 ERA’s. Both pitched on Saturday. Drake sometimes struggled with command, but other than that, Tivy coach Chris Russ thought both had good stuff against Churchill. Stoney Rhodes, Travis White, Jack Patterson and Walker Grimes will also be options on the mound this season. The abundance of arms is another reason why Russ is excited about the upcoming season.
“We lost a big (pitcher) in Brady Delgado, and I’m hoping (Abel) can step in and film that void,” Russ said. “We got plenty of arms going into this season, and I look forward to seeing what they can do.”
The bigger concern entering this spring is whether the Antlers can consistently produce at the plate. Last season, they collectively slashed .329/.429/.442, lower figures than 2018’s season averages (.354/.451/.461). Russ wanted his players to grow stronger during the off-season, so he focused more on weight lifting than running during athletic period.
Players also trained on their own. Junior catcher Travis White, who committed to University of Houston last fall, worked out with Truefit’s Jose Flores and 04 Strength’s David Riley, adding 22 pounds to his frame.
“It was bulking season this fall — we lifted a bunch,” Russ said. “I think our guys are more physical this year. If they keep the same (batting) average but add extra base hits instead of singles, that’s going to add runs. I feel like we can run better this year. I think we are bigger, stronger and faster this year. … I don’t think people are going to look a lot better than we are in a uniform.”
The Antlers didn’t perform particularly well at the plate on Saturday, but Russ said that is to be expected during a preseason scrimmage, noting it takes about a week for hitters to master timing.
“If we are struggling the first week of the season at the plate, I will be a little concerned,” Russ said.
Until then, nothing can sway his and his players’ belief that they are about to produce a memorable season.
“It’s going to be a big year,” Abel said. “We are going to have a good team. Hopefully we go farther in playoffs than we did last year.”