This article appears in the March issue of ESPNHS magazine.
Back in 2010, a young, determined Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) team shocked the high school baseball world by knocking off top-ranked Klein (Texas) to win a state championship.
With seven starters returning last spring, the Tigers opened the season at No. 4 in the POWERADE FAB 50 and were favored to be the first Texas team to repeat as state champ since 2003.
Carroll lived up to the expectations in the regular season, earning a return trip to the state semifinals before getting upset by Coronado (Lubbock, Texas), 10-0. Coach Lee Yeager thinks the yearlong hype finally caught up to his team.
“We ran into a team that had our 2010 mentality,” the 12th-year skipper says. “When we played Klein in 2010, we had that burning desire to beat them. I think last year we faced a team a little more hungry than we were.”
That won’t be an issue this time around.
The Tigers return seven seniors who’ve been on varsity the past three years, led by Texas-bound RHP/OF Courtney Hawkins, the lone junior on the Class 5A All-State first team last year. With Hawkins, O’Shea Dumes and Chris Cano anchoring a veteran staff, Yeager’s squad can shut down any lineup on any day.
The lineup is strong from top to bottom, starting with leadoff man Trey Rodriguez (SS) and including Josh Cruz (3B), Jason Franco (OF) and Julian Salinas (2B). Sophomore catcher Michael Cantu is the program’s next elite player.
So while the hype and the high rankings (No. 4 in this year’s preseason FAB 50) will again accompany this team, there’s no way the players will buy in. Yeager isn’t shy about calling last year’s season finale embarrassing, and you can bet his players feel the same way.
“I do think losing that game the way we lost it left something inside the guys that they know we better atone for that,” the coach says.
After surprising the state in 2010, Yeager challenged his players to prove it wasn’t a fluke the following year. For the most part, the Tigers complied. By emerging from the cauldron of Texas postseason baseball as one of four regional champs going on to state, they quieted most of the doubters. But, according to Yeager, that lopsided defeat in last year’s season finale – the coach isn’t shy about calling it embarrassing – could reignite the skeptics. A typical coach’s motivational ploy? Perhaps.
But for a group of seniors who have played together for more than 10 years, and delivered Carroll the school’s first state title in any sport, nothing would mean more than going out on top together.
“Their legacy as high school players is based on this season,” the coach says.