Baseball: Kingwood park looks for another deep postseason run
Kingwood Park head coach Bruce Cox met with the Panthers early Friday morning for breakfast to discuss the theme of the upcoming season.
Senior pitcher Jackson Rodriguez and the Panthers heard Cox’s message loud and clear.
“His message to us was basically to work hard and reminding us of the fact that we have done nothing in 2019,” said the senior left-handed pitcher. He reminded us as a team that although last year was great, we have to turn the page and realize that we have done nothing this year.”
It’s hard to forget about K-Park’s historic season last year. The Panthers won their sixth-straight district title and got all the way to the state tournament for the first time in school history.
The Panthers lost in the state semifinals in eight innings to Northwest Eaton — a loss that still stings just a bit.
“The feeling was cool to make school history,” Rodriguez said. “Losing in the semis was awful and it left a sour taste in our mouth. We know how much hard work it took to get there, and we know what is expected of us each day of the season.”
The Panthers began after-school practice on Friday to begin the 2019 season.
Cox liked the enthusiasm from the Panthers as they hit in the cage, got some work in on the field and ran for a conditioning test.
“I thought it was good,” Cox said. “The energy was good. We have a lot of experience on this team, and we have a lot of young guys. I felt that the leadership of the older guys is going to help the younger guys. We have some sophomores and juniors on our varsity squad and whenever you have them on your team it sets you up for the future. Any experience a young player get is beneficial to a program.”
Senior shortstop Matthew Burke was excited to be back out on the practice field with his teammates.
“We’re happy to be back out here on the field again,” Burke said. “We all have been waiting on this moment for a while now. To finally get out here and throw the baseball and get in the cage was fun.”
The Panthers will return 13 players from last year’s team. That includes eight total starters.
Last season was a great opportunity for the young players to learn, Cox said.
“The cool thing is that all those young guys are seniors and they contributed to the team last year as juniors in some way,” Cox said. “They were watching a bunch of seniors and learned how they played the game. They’re hungry now more than ever to play ball.”
The Panthers lost three senior pitchers from last year’s squad but will look to left-handed pitcher Jacob Colby and right handers Ryan Waltmon and Jackson Burris.
“We have an opportunity to be deeper on the mound this year,” Cox said. “We did leave some sophomores on JV last year to get some innings and get experience. We will have some guys that will step up this year. Anytime you have sophomores and junior it’s beneficial for your program’s long-term success.”
Senior catcher Clay Sowell will have a young pitching staff to work with this season
“We have to build confidence in each other,” said the three-year-letterman. “We have some young pitchers, but it’s up to me to build their confidence up and make sure they’re ready when they get on that mound. They’re going to see how a varsity game is and there might be some growing pains, but we will work out of that. Right now we just need to work on our chemistry and make sure that we are on the same page.”
The Panthers will be in the newly formed District 20-5A that includes Caney Creek, Hunstville, Montgomery, Lake Creek, New Caney, Porter, Tomball and Willis.
“We’re going to have a really good district this year,” Sowell said. “We’re going against some great teams, and we will have to play our best games in district. In the scrimmages and non-district games that we have coming up we need to make sure that we’re all communicating on the field.”
Kingwood Park was ranked No. 9 in the Class 5A Texas High School Coaches Baseball Association preseason poll that was released on Jan. 16.
“We didn’t win it all last year, and they’re hungry to get back,” Cox said. “Everyone has a chance to make it to state right now. We’re all even. It’s everyone goal to make it all the way to state every year and it’s our goal too. Losing in extras last year was tough and a fire has been burning in these kids since that day.”