Of all the successful athletic programs at Robinson High School – and there are many – a varsity boxing team does not exist.
Or does it?
One might think otherwise if they stumbled across the dugout of the third-ranked Robinson baseball team. Wherever the Rockets travel, from the field to the weight room to the bus, a pair of boxing gloves accompanies them. It’s not that Robinson head coach Bryan Kent wants his team to break out into fisticuffs with the other squad if an inside fastball strays a little too far inside.
No, the gloves simply represent the Rockets’ state championship-focused mindset.
“We always say the word fight,” Kent said. “We wanted guys to be fighters and finish.”
The gloves were the brainchild of Robinson assistant coach John Armes, who Kent described as passionate and hard-working. A series of boxes are drawn on one of the gloves in Sharpie, each box corresponding to a different round of the playoffs. The final box, the biggest of them all, has the initials “TX” scrawled next to it, meaning that the team knocked out the entire state and won the Class 4A championship.
“They kind of represent the fight and the grind, fighting every way and clawing every way, to get to the goal you want to reach,” said junior pitcher/outfielder Braxton Aschraft. “The ultimate goal is winning the state championship. We have the rounds in boxes, and the big box has a TX in it for Austin. That’s the final goal. We’re trying to get every one of those boxes filled in.”
As the 2017 season dawned back in February, the Rockets knew that they had all the makings of a successful team. Several standout players from last year’s 29-4 state semifinalist squad returned for another go-round, and they were determined to get back to Austin and win it this time around.
Then the season began, and Robinson, as expected, charged out to a bunch of wins. Yet Kent recognized a breakdown in the leadership and the investment of some of the players. So he called the players in for a talk – less a come-to-Jesus meeting than a wake-up call for the seniors and veteran leaders.
“Early on, even though we were winning some games, we kind of struggled to find ourselves. Struggled a little bit with leadership,” Kent said. “About halfway through the year we had several talks, and I kind of laid it on the seniors, ‘This is it for most of you guys. This is the last time you’re going to play. You guys have got to take more of an active role on how things go. Because the coaches only have some much control, and the rest of it has to come from you guys, holding each other accountable. Doing things without being told.’ And they’ve done that.”
There are two other sets of initials written on Robinson’s boxing gloves. The letters “HCD” stand for “Heart, Character and Desire,” while the initials “DSB” refer to a motto that the team has carried for the past several seasons. That being “Do Simple Better” – a reminder that even a seemingly insignificant element of the game, like fielding a routine ground ball, has enormous repercussions if not handled properly.
“We’re trying to do the simple things better, like picking each other up, coming off the field if they just got out and were on base,” senior pitcher Dru Dziedzic said. “Just cheering each other on, giving each other support.”
Added Kent: “They’ve bought into that. It’s fielding routine ground balls, it’s bunting better than everyone else, it’s battling with two strikes better than everyone else, it’s doing the little things better.”
When Robinson (28-2) mixes that “DSB” brand of Rocket fuel with the talent it has in its dugout, the final blend is rather special. Dziedzic has pitched on the Rocket varsity since his freshman year, and he said he has gained maturity as the games and seasons have piled up. This year, he is less concerned if an opposing hitter makes contact, because he has the ultimate faith in his glove-clad defenders at his back. (Baseball gloves, not boxing).
“If my life was on the line, I’d come to these guys,” Dziedzic said. “I trust them that much.”
Then there is Ashcraft, an impressive 6-foot-5 specimen who set all manner of records while making 37 touchdown catches for Robinson’s football team last fall. And yet he may be even more imposing in baseball, as the Baylor baseball commit boasts a strong right arm and a power-packed swing.
Dziedzic and Ashcraft comprise a strong 1-2 punch on the mound, though this week’s 4A regional semifinal clash against fifth-ranked West Orange-Stark (26-3-1) has forced Kent to single out just one of them for the starting mound duty. That’s because West Orange-Stark won a coin flip and opted for a one-game playoff on Thursday in Magnolia rather than a series, as it plans to pin its own hopes on its ace (and stud quarterback) Jack Dallas.
Kent said he trusts either one of his pitchers to get the job done. Robinson’s mightiest haymaker isn’t necessarily found in the superb stuff of those aces or the hitting prowess of Mason Cooper, Peyton Powell and others.
It all comes back to those Floyd Mayweather mittens. The Rockets said they’ve learned that fighting to succeed on every pitch, every play, leads to knockout results.
“It’s really hard and demeaning to the other team whenever you know you’re going to have to grind your way through every single at-bat,” Ashcraft said. “It’s just demoralizing for a defense. We keep fighting, and eventually they’ll give up.”