Everyone remembers their senior year of high school.
Braxton Ashcraft and Mason Cooper have a chance to make it a really memorable one.
Aschraft and Cooper are two of the senior leaders for a Robinson baseball team that doesn’t need their smart phones to locate Disch-Falk Field. How special of a season could it be for the 2018 Rockets? They have a legitimate shot to become the first Central Texas school to reach three straight UIL state baseball tournaments.
Moreover, if Ashcraft delivers a replica of last year’s all-around contributions, he has a shot to become a rare repeat winner of the Super Centex Player of the Year honor. In the past 30 years, only former Robinson great Chad Hollingsworth (2011-12), Midway’s Todd Glaesmann (2008-09), Lorena’s Jake Weghorst (2002-03) and Midway’s Casey Fossum (1995-96) were two-time Super Centex Player of the Year winners.
Robinson coach Bryan Kent is well aware that it could be a special year for the Rockets. He also considers it his job to make sure the team doesn’t get ahead of itself.
“We’d like to think so (that we have a chance),” Kent said. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep all our focus on us and what we can do. We have to try to stay healthy, keep all our guys intact. But we’ve got a good core group with some experience, so hopefully we can stay humble and make another run.”
How well-fueled are the Rockets? They return eight starters from a team that went 31-3 and reached the Class 4A state final before falling to Abilene Wylie.
The most high-performing gas originates from Ashcraft. The senior Baylor signee and Under Armour All-American owns more tools than Home Depot, and is coming off a season in which he hit .362 with 35 runs scored, eight home runs, 38 RBIs and a .745 slugging percentage. And that’s just his hitting contributions.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander also racked up a 9-1 pitching record with a 2.11 ERA and 100 strikeouts.
“I’ve seen Braxton’s work ethic get much better,” Kent said. “He has an understanding of what it takes to be a leader. He’s maturing, and setting himself up well for his future after high school.
“I think the younger guys are taking note. They understand, ‘Hey, if one of the best guys in the state is working like this, maybe we should, too.’”
Ashcraft is hardly the only big stick in the Rocket lineup. Cooper, a first-team Super Centex performer as a junior in 2017, is back for another go-round after punishing pitchers on his way to a .455 average and 37 RBIs.
“Anytime in a big game it seemed we needed a hit, he would come through,” Kent said of Cooper. “We’re going to rely on those seniors for a lot of leadership, and they’re two of our best players.”
Junior catcher Peyton Powell stands out as a sturdy backstop, while sophomore shortstop Jordan Rogers and sophomore second baseman Jace Walker form a promising middle infield.
The Rockets won’t buzz under anyone’s radar, given their recent run of success. They’re ranked No. 1 in TxHSBaseball.com’s Class 4A poll and come in at No. 2 in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association rankings.
But in some ways, the Rockets feel like they haven’t done anything yet. In each of the past two years that they’ve made it to state, they’ve had to watch another team revel in the celebratory dogpile at the end.
“We have yet to win a boys team state championship in any sport at Robinson, and they would love nothing more than to bring one home in baseball,” said Kent, a Robinson alum. “We understand that it’s difficult, but that’s my job is to keep their minds focused and make sure they keep working toward that goal.”
In addition to the Rockets, here are four other Central Texas teams who could create some championship memories in 2018:
Midway (6A) – Second-year Midway coach Eddie Cornblum will rely on several strong returners from last year’s 21-winteam, including 8-6A newcomer of year Couper Cornblum (.326, 18 steals) and pitcher Will Rigney.
Clifton (3A) – Senior second baseman/pitcher Edgar Rodriguez will try to make “Cubs win! Cubs win!” a common refrain in Clifton.
Valley Mills (2A) – The Eagles won 27 games last year, and have youth on their side, as slugger Chase Keeton (.406 average) and pitcher/infielder Elijah Degrate (1.63 ERA) are a junior and sophomore, respectively.
Bosqueville (2A) –The Bulldogs made the regional semifinals last year, and district pitcher of year Kolby Clark will look to spur another playoff run.
Abbott (1A) – The Panthers are ranked No. 1 in 1A as they try to win a second straight state championship behind six returning starters.