Bobcats "Living in the Now" During Playoff Pursuit
SAN ANGELO, TX—In 2017, the Central Bobcat baseball team won the District 8-6A championship with a 12-3 record in district play and advanced to the Area Round of the University Interscholastic League baseball playoffs.
The Bobcats maintained a simple, game-by-game mentality during that campaign to win eight of their first 10 district games headlined by blue-blood names like Waco Midway, a staple in the Texas High School baseball playoffs.
The Bobcats’ approach in 2018 is no different with Central two games clear of the fourth playoff spot in District 8-6A and two games behind first-place Midway, who Central has yet to play.
“This is an extremely tough district,” Central skipper Patrick Penry said. “Our guys are competitors and they battle all the time. It doesn’t matter [the situation]…The sky’s the limit for these guys. Our goal is to get to the playoffs and let anything happen because that’s the nature of the game. Anything can happen on any given day.”
District 8-6A features five teams in the top six with double figure wins and parity across the eight teams. Oh, that one team in the top six without double-digit wins? That’s Belton, who’s tied with Central for second place, sitting on nine wins and split the season series with the Bobcats.
“They’re up at the plate putting together great at-bats and finding ways to get on base. Our philosophy is extremely simple: when we’re at the plate, it’s find a way to get on base. It’s not get a base hit, not drive in a run. It’s find a way to get on base and get the next guy up.
“On the mound, it’s simple: throw strikes and pitch to contact. We’re not trying to strike guys out and [the team] has really bought into it. When you play great defense behind simple philosophies like that, you’re able to pull off some wins and put yourself in a [good] situation.”
The aforementioned parity was evident when Killeen High, currently seventh in the district, put together some late heroics to down the Bobcats 6-5 in Killeen on March 16.
“We know now, after playing Killeen and them not being a very strong team, that we just weren’t mentally prepared for that game and that’s why we got beat,” said junior shortstop Rance Rosas. “So now, going into these other games, we don’t look at anyone lightly. We look at them like [Waco] Midway or the number one team in the state. We want to be tough and play our best baseball against them.”
Despite sitting within spitting distance of district leader Midway, Central has kept their focus on the smaller picture: a playoff berth.
“It’d be great to go back-to-back district champs,” Penry said. “But that’s not our goal. Our goal, first of all, is to get in the playoffs. I’d hate to even talk further because I tell the kids to live in the now, live in the present and don’t look too far in advance. Our goal and our focus is Copperas Cove. We want to go one pitch, one game at a time.”
Central also faced stiff competition against big name teams like five-time Arkansas State Champs Fayetteville, Lewisville Hebron, Lewisville The Colony and McKinney Boyd to start their 2018 campaign.
The Bobcats went into district play with a 6-13 record that looked bad to anyone not factoring the level of competition they faced as well as other adversity not seen by the public eye. That hasn’t stopped the home-nine from making a run at a second-straight district title.
“That tells a lot about the kid’s character and their work ethic, you know,” Penry said. “Just their mental toughness with everything they’ve been through, the losses we’ve had. We’ve had some heartbreakers, played a lot of close games and then had a few key guys go down with injuries. I can’t say enough about the guys. We focus on what we have.”
Rosas, who hit .410 and drove in 21 runs in a year ago to earn Second-Team All-District honors, has been one of many pieces to step up offensively for Central.
Guys like Tuesday’s hero Bryson Murrell, who didn’t start the year on the varsity squad, yet have been called up due to injuries or other reasons, have also helped get Central to the catbird seat they’ve found themselves in with seven games left.
“I tell our kids from the beginning of the season, and in the program because we have two junior varsity teams, it’s like a minor league system,” Penry said. “You’ve got to be ready regardless of what level you start on because we’ll go to both teams and find what we need. Dylan Abbott and Ryan Ramon are playing with varsity. Those two are freshman who started on the junior varsity blue team. It doesn’t matter where you start. It’s where you finish.”
Central ace, and Sul Ross commit, Jonathan Limon has stepped up like he has his previous two seasons on the mound for the Bobcats.
“We talk about it all the time. It’s about how you respond to any kind of error or a bad pitch,” Penry said. “If you react, that’s negative. That means you’re out of control of your mind and things aren’t going your way. But when you respond, we take that as a positive.
“Jonathan didn’t have his best stuff in his last outing, which we haven’t seen all year because he’s been so lights out. He’s been pitching for us for a long time and he realizes he can compete even when he’s at fifty percent of his best. That’s what he did [on Tuesday]. He kept the game under control and kept us in the game. You can’t ask for much more from your starting pitcher.”
After throwing 65 strikeouts in his junior season, Limon has rung up 62 batters in seven starts in which he has a 4-1 record.
The Bobcats will look to move one step closer to their goal with a road trip to Copperas Cove today and first pitch at 6 p.m.