Chad Hollingsworth had ample opportunity to be struck down by nerves over the past four years.
He’s pitched twice in the state tournament, taken the hill numerous times in playoff elimination games and yet never lost a district start. That’s enough to get just about anybody’s blood pressure up, and yet Hollingsworth has treated each opportunity with the same reserved calm. As he proved with big-game performance after performance, finding a nervous bone in the Robinson ace’s body might be a futile chore.
“He’s so calm and mild mannered,” Robinson coach Bryan Kent said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him get nervous ever. That’s good because he’s pitched in a lot of big games for us, and in those big games you can’t get nervous and you can’t get rattled.”
Hollingsworth charted another record-breaking year for Robinson with the calm of a Sunday stroll, allowing the fire-throwing Rockets ace to take home his second consecutive Super Centex Player of the Year award. He improved on his basement-low numbers from last year by going 13-2 with a 0.50 ERA in 97 1/3 innings, fanning 139 batters in addition to hitting .333 with 30 RBIs.
As a former player, Kent knows better than most the kind of talent that’s suited up in Robinson blue. And Hollingsworth’s career surpassed them all.
“I think you could probably say he’s had the best high school career of any player we’ve had in Robinson history,” Kent said. “Where he’s been able to, as ace of staff, to lead his team, just some things that have never been done in Robinson. It takes a team to do that, but it helps when you have pitcher the caliber of Chad.”
In his four years at Robinson, Hollingsworth led the Rockets to previously untrodden heights. The Rockets had never made a state championship game until Hollingsworth pitched them there last season with a gutsy complete-game performance in a 5-1 win over Texarkana Pleasant Grove in the state semifinals.
That the Texas commit was able to do it at Disch-Falk Field, the site of his future exploits, was only icing.
He was as dominant as ever this year. Robinson breezed through nondistrict with its ace throwing gem after gem. In District 19-3A, Hollingsworth bettered Baylor commit Sterling Wynn of China Spring twice in one of the marquee pitching matchups of the year. Those two wins helped Robinson keep alive its four-year unbeaten streak in district play.
But, as usual, Hollingsworth saved his best stuff for the postseason. After giving up just one run in an area-round win over Diboll, Hollinsgworth oddly threw a no-hitter in a game the Rockets lost, 1-0, in Game 1 against Bullard. But without missing a beat, the Rockets swept the final two games, giving Hollingsworth a chance to close out Bridge City in a 6-2 win in the regional final.
No nerves. No sweat.
“I’ve just always been real chill on the baseball field,” Hollingsworth said. “If you do then good things will happen.”
Hollingsworth started fast but burned out before the conclusion of his freshman year. He had a 4-0 record when a broken left arm derailed the rest of his season. He came back harder his sophomore year, and it was during a one-game playoff start against Carthage that his game finally clicked. Instead of handing the ball to No. 1 Matt Walker, Kent gave it to Hollingsworth. Robinson won.
“It just showed he trusted me and things were good,” Hollingsworth said.
By his junior year, Hollingsworth had hit the big time, garnering attention from schools across the state for a big fastball that occasionally touches 94 miles per hour and a hard, biting curve. With his two main pitches he went 24-4 as an upperclassman and struck out 270 batters.
“That really showed how hard our senior class has worked,” Hollingsworth said. “Just doing something that’s never been done in Robinson history is a pretty great thing.”
Coach of the Year:
Cory Beckham West
Cory Beckham was confronted with a few painful truths after West’s 2011 season flamed out in the second round.
The previous two seasons ended in tears short of the state tournament despite loaded rosters that had West ranked as high as No. 1 in the state. After West’s promising 2011 season ended far short of Austin in the area round, it prompted introspection from Beckham and unearthed some difficult answers.
“It made you kind of re-look at things and what we’ve been doing last couple years,” Beckham said. “The way I looked at it was the way we were doing it wasn’t working as well as we wanted it to. We needed to figure out some new methods of coaching the kids.”
With perhaps less talent but more cohesiveness than in seasons past, Beckham’s adjustments helped lead West to the state final, where the Trojans fell just short of the ultimate goal in a 4-0 loss to Texarkana Pleasant Grove. It was West’s first appearance at state in 13 years after a 32-9 season that earned Beckham the Super Centex Coach of the Year award.
West’s tradition of excellence in spring sports, baseball being no exception, creates a healthy sheen of expectation that coats everything surrounding the baseball program. That seeped into the program in myriad ways, many instances so small that they had eluded Beckham’s attention before. Every time West broke a huddle they’d do it with a cry of, “1-2-3 State Champs.”
“We figured we were kind of looking forward to that prize instead of looking forward to today,” Beckham said.
In addition to toughening his approach toward practice and his players, Beckham scrubbed clean all premature vestiges of state in the offseason. Gone was the state champs cheer, and Beckham made it a point to never mention the state tournament until West beat Andrews in the regional final to officially earn a spot in Austin.
“When we won that game, it was the first time I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to the championships. We’re going to Austin,’” Beckham said. “The players might have talked about it without me knowing, but I told them from the get-go, we’re not talking about the tournament, we’re not talking about a state championship. Ever.”
Until, of course, West got there. West navigated through three one-run wins in the playoffs before booking passage to Austin, where the Trojans beat Sweeny, 10-3, in the semis before Pleasant Grove completed a Central Texas sweep after ousting Robinson the day before.
“It was very rewarding watching not just the team develop, but the senior class, those five guys,” Beckham said. “Watching each of those players over the last four years and how much better they’ve gotten, not just as baseball players but as young men and teammates, it was very rewarding to watch them do that.”
Newcomer of the Year:
Dustin Vasek Midway
The night before Midway embarked on an early season tournament trip to Highland Park this season, Dustin Vasek’s phone lit up.
It was Midway varsity coach Paul Offill.
“That night I got a call from (Offill) saying that we had an injury and I needed to be packed and ready to leave at eight o’clock the next morning to go play in a tournament,” Vasek said. “So that was a little surprising. But I was happy, and that’s where I wanted to be.”
Earlier that night, Vasek hit a home run and a double on Midway’s junior varsity squad while regular varsity first baseman Ben Hicks broke his ankle sliding into third base.
The morning of Vasek’s call-up, the team swung by Hicks’ house before departing to wish him well, and Vasek’s head was swimming knowing his duties just multiplied.
“I just had to get the feel,” Vasek said. “I didn’t know too many people on the team.”
The year started relatively slow for the first baseman, who had played third for the majority of the year until then. Due to necessity Offill moved Vasek to first, and he took to it quickly.
He finished the year with a .338 average and 31 hits, providing a bit of stability in the middle of the lineup despite his age.
Like most of the team, Vasek really came alive in the playoffs. The Panthers lost their first playoff game to Granbury in the bi-district round before rallying to win their next eight en route to the regional final.
Midway’s run was eventually cut off by Cleburne, but Vasek said it was only the beginning for the team’s returning cast.
“I had been playing summer ball which really helped me with the speed and everything like that,” Vasek said. “It’s just a different feel. Those Tuesday nights when the stands are packed and you’re out there playing, it’s awesome.”
|C||Jake Blenden||Sr||.338||40 RBI||Crawford|
|1B||Kyle Whitley||So||.432||40 RBI||Troy|
|2B||Max Hogan||Sr||.337||13 2B||Belton|
|SS||Kramer Robertson||Jr||.438||39 RBI||Midway|
|3B||Mason Paxton||Sr||.455||49 RBI||West|
|OF||Ross Coskrey||Jr||.338||26 RBI||Midway|
|OF||Hunter Jarmon||Jr||.367||24 RBI||Midway|
|OF||Zac Law||So||.398||22 RBI||Robinson|
|DH||Kolbey Carpenter||Sr||.369||14 HR||West|
|UT||Hunter Abbe||Sr||.439||33 RBI||Robinson|
|P||Patrick Mathis||Sr||4W||116 Ks||Moody|
|P||Sterling Wynn||Sr||9-1||0.67||China Spring|
Player of the Year: Chad Hollingsworth, Robinson
Newcomer of the Year: Dustin Vasek, Midway
Coach of the Year: Cory Beckham, West
|C||Jason Prevatt||Jr||.324||22 RBI||China Spring|
|1B||Austin Bishoff||Sr||.352||25 RBI||Belton|
|2B||Hunter Vansau||So||.471||31 RBI||Crawford|
|SS||Trace Shirley||Sr||.511||52 R||Wortham|
|3B||Zach Sullivan||Jr||.422||29 RBI||Robinson|
|OF||Tyler English||Sr||.361||22 RBI||Gatesville|
|OF||Kyle Schroeder||Sr||.450||20 SB||Riesel|
|OF||Klein Wiley||Jr||.369||16 SB||Groesbeck|
|DH||Mason George||Jr||.378||45 H||China Spring|
|UT||Edward Ibarra||So||.447||0.98 ERA||University|
|P||Tucker Johnson||So||7-2||1.55||China Spring|
Catchers: Harrison Hull, Bremond; Cole Herbort, Vanguard; Chris Lee, Wortham.
Infielders/outfielders: Lucas Helleck and Justin Stranacher, Axtell; Shane Ward, Belton; Jacob White, Bremond; Zek Kleypas, Crawford; Junior Fuentes, Connally; Jacob Gallegos and Colby Minze, Fairfield; Juan Alfaro and Robert Lambert, Groesbeck; Collin Sharp and Bobby Strahan, Lorena; Tyler Kaminski and Justin Watson, Riesel; Alex Rogers, Robinson; D.J. Elkins, Vanguard.
Pitchers: Cade Grych and Hunter Houston, Bremond; Blake Bottoms, Crawford; Cole Jackson, Fairfield; Tyler Janes, Gatesville; Dylon Person, Riesel; Nathan Schleede, Troy; Jake Schwartz, Vanguard.
Rung up six home runs as a mainstay in the middle of Crawford’s lineup, earning second-team 2A all-state nod
Helped Troy to the playoffs with massive .432 average and 51 hits; also named district defensive player of the year
5A all-state player, Baylor signee aided Belton’s run to regional quarters with 35 hits, 4 dingers and .337 avg.
Lightning- quick bat and limitless range gave first-team all-state player, LSU commit boost from everywhere
Hit .455 during the season and killed at state, ending with area-best 49 RBIs and area-high .455 average
Few were more dangerous as leadoff hitters; stole 35 bases, drove in 26 runs, and scored 52 on his own
Hit cleanup for regional final team that streaked through playoffs, booming four long balls and driving in 24 runs
Age was no factor for the rangy centerfielder, who hit .398, clubbed four home runs and helped guide Robinson to state
Led West back to the promised land for first time since 1999 with much tougher approach, less focus on title
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