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Deer Park almost in need of perfect bi-district series versus Atascocita

May 2, 2019

For the first time in three years, Deer Park’s varsity baseball team won’t be opposing Summer Creek High School for the bi-district title.

But they’ll be up the proverbial creek without a paddle if the Deer doesn’t play well in all areas when they confront Atascocita for this year’s bi-district title.

It’s been years since a Chris Rupp-coached team has lost a bi-district assignment, but the Eagles will be a stern test right out of the postseason chute.

But this is also the first time in awhile that Deer Park isn’t hitting the playoffs as the first-place club, meaning the maroon and gold, winners of 21-6A’s third-place ticket, isn’t opposing a fourth-place team.

Game 1 is slated for Thursday night at Jim Kethan Field and Game 2 will be held at Atascocita High School. The first pitch for both is 7:30 p.m. Should there be an IF game, it will be at Humble High School on Saturday with a 2 p.m. start.

“They’ve got a good club. They can pitch and they can swing it. They’re going to be a very formidable opponent. We’re just going to have to play mistake free,” Rupp said Wednesday afternoon.

With a District 22-6A team ERA of 1.73 and a .357 team batting average, those two stats pretty much tell the story of how well Atascocita played in district.

But naysayers might be saying, “Yeah but half of 22-6A is loaded with mediocre Pasadena ISD programs.” True. Well then, Atascocita’s overall team batting average coming into the playoffs is .322, complimented by a 1.64 ERA.

Senior Clay Bradford is Atascocita’s ace and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he receives the ball for Game 1.

Bradford is 4-1 on the mound with a 1.11 ERA. In 38.0 innings, he has struck out 30, walked 11 and allowed six earned runs. In 22-6A assignments, he was 3-1 with an 0.96 ERA.

Behind Bradford is Hudson Luce, the son of Clear Lake High School product Roger Luce, who played for the University of Texas, reaching the Triple A level in the pros by playing for the Tucson Toros, a Houston Astros farm club, in 1996.

Hudson Luce went 4-1 for the season on the hill, manufacturing a 2.05 ERA, striking out 21 and giving up eight earned runs. Atascocita won’t hesitate to also send to the mound Caleb Cannon, a senior who is 5-3 with a 2.10 ERA. Cannon actually leads the Eagles pitching staff in strikeouts with 38.

That trio hasn’t had to worry about run production since Atascocita boasts of hitters such as Dylan Ivey and his .393 batting average, Bradford’s .372, Tyler Byrd’s .368 and Macrea Kendrick’s .366.

But what Atascocita may be best at is its knack for stealing bases. The team racked up a district-leading 88 thefts or an average of 5.8 steals per game. Those 88 steals almost ranked second in 22-6A because champion Kingwood totaled 85 thefts.

So the team’s game plan is easy to see. Get guys on the basepaths, steal their way into scoring position and let folks like Ivey, Bradford, Byrd and Kendrick come up with RBI basehits or let others drive those four in.

“They like to bunt because they have guys who can run. They’ve got guys at the top who can run, they’ve got guys in the middle who can bang it a little bit so we’re going to have to be on top of our game, no doubt,” Rupp said.

Rupp wasn’t ready to divulge who he might throw for Game 1, but his likely choices are Jordan Phillips, Brody Wilson or Matthew Potts with Bryce Mead answering the call for some late-inning work.

No matter who gets the assignment, it’ll have to be their very best outing. The Eagles can’t employ their aggressive base-stealing tactics if they can’t find the basepaths.

The objective for Deer Park’s pitchers will be to collect key outs when there’s already two in the books. Atascocita will obviously put runners on the basepaths, but in a perfect world, Deer Park needs for that to happen when there’s two outs.

Meanwhile, the defense, which has had its ups and downs, can’t give Atascocita four-out innings.

“We’re going to have to play solid baseball for three games to beat them,” Rupp said.

ravery@hcnonline.com