HOUSTON CHRONICLE ARCHIVES
Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: MON 02/23/1998
Edition: 3 STAR
Baseball preview/ THE RIGHT OF SPRING/ Top-ranked Lions hope their
time has come
The first two weeks in February give high school baseball coaches a chance to tinker with their lineups during scrimmages in an effort to field the best team possible.
It also is a time to find out where the problem areas and weaknesses are. Spring coach Kenny Humphreys has been working as hard as anyone the past two weeks, although he hasn't able to pinpoint any weaknesses.
"We're hitting the ball, we're getting good pitching, we're scoring runs," he said.
In a span of 34 innings in three scrimmages, Spring has allowed only five hits and hit 10 home runs, and the Lions' defense, which has been the Achilles' heel in the past, has been solid with only one error.
"The weakness could be when we get down and behind, what are we going to do?" Humphreys said. "We're still waiting to see that."
With seven starters returning, including two dominant pitchers, from last year's 21-10 team, the Lions probably won't find themselves behind often. Spring enters the season, which begins today, as the Chronicle's No. 1-ranked area Class 5A team.
After winning five of seven state titles from 1989 to 1995, area 5A teams have come up short at Austin the past two years. Spring is out to break that drought.
"Of course, that's a realistic goal," Humphreys said. "I wouldn't say, `Yeah, we're going to do that.' I've been in (coaching) 19 years now, and I know this: you've got to have good players, you've got to make some right decisions, you've got to have the pitching and you've got to be a little lucky and stay healthy.
"With all of that, we've got a good a shot as anybody."
The biggest reason for optimism is on the mound where junior Josh Beckett (9-4, 150 strikeouts) and senior Mike Bell (16 wins in two years) give the Lions an unmatched 1-2 punch.
Beckett, the district's Most Valuable Player last year as a sophomore, tossed three no-hitters with his 94-mph heat and should be a first-round major-league draft pick next June. Bell was clocked at 90 mph during scrimmages.
"Those two kids keep getting better," Humphreys said. "That's a scary thought. Beckett would've been drafted last year as one of the top five picks. The Bell kid had a tremendous sophomore year and won eight games his junior year but over the summer and fall he just hit a spurt there. He's throwing really well."
Although Humphreys said Beckett is "probably the best high school baseball player in the nation," the pitcher is not letting it get into his head.
"You just have to block it out," Beckett said. "You just take it and say thanks. You don't just run and get a big head with it."
Offensively, Spring should be solid with returners Andy Palermo (second base), Kyle Humphreys (third base) and Zack Sandell (center field), Billy Green (right field). Newcomer Stephen Ghutzman is a switch-hitting catcher.
David Rhone, the starting point guard in basketball, will play shortstop and Aaron Karas, the starting quarterback in football, will play left field. Beckett will play first when not pitching and Bell will see time at designated hitter.
"We've got five kids returning that have been battle-tested," Kenny Humphreys said. "Now what we have to offer with that is we're going to throw in three great athletes, and this is something that's going to be a little unusual to our team."
What won't be unusual is Spring piling up the wins.
"We do have some talent," Kenny Humphreys said. "I just think if we stay healthy up on the mound and do the things we're supposed to do, I sure think we're right in the hunt. We're as good as anybody in town."
All-Greater Houston teams
Gary Majewski--Senior----St. Pius.
Daron Bertillion---Senior--St. Thomas
Adam Dunn---Senior---New Caney
J.P. Mitchell---Senior---Jersey Village
Chip Ambres--Senior---Beaumont West Brook
Blake Davis--Senior--Klein Oak
Neal Stephenson--Senior--Spring Woods
Ryan Lambeth--Senior---Clear Creek.
Pitchers-Chris Sheffield, Sr., Fort Bend Austin; Mike Bell, Sr., Spring; Dustin Lansford, Sr., Baytown Sterling; Pat Holmes, Jr., Baytown Lee; Jon Switzer, Sr., Clear Lake.
Catcher-Carson Samples, Sr., Lamar.
Infielders-Ty Garner, Sr., Kingwood; Chase Lambin, Sr., Cypress Falls; Hunter Brown, Sr., Lamar; Kyle Humphreys, Sr., Spring.
Outfielders-Kennard Bibbs, Sr., Bellaire; A.J. Porfirio, Sr.; Kyle Smith, Jr., Bellaire.
Designated hitter-Trent Jones, Sr., Brazoswood.
Utility-Bryan Sneed, Sr., Westfield.
Class 4A/others rankings
1. LITTLE CYPRESS-MAURICEVILLE (27-6 in 1997)-The Beau Hale era is over, but Brandon Taylor (10-0, 0.90 ERA) and Billy Ford give LC-M a better overall pitching staff. The young Bears, who went to state in 1996 and lost 1-0 in the regional final last spring, will have only two position players who are seniors in SS Jeremy Green and RF Daniel Fears.
2. MONTGOMERY (22-4)-Chad Boyd, a lefty who went 7-4 for Conroe last year; Chris Boyd; Josh Mann and Kyle Zenior will have to step up on the mound to replace graduated P Gary Schulz. The Bears will trade power for speed with the return of SS Scott Burrer, LF Joey Romano, CF Aaron Gooch and RF Josh Mann.
3. BRENHAM (24-7)-The Cubs, who dropped a three-game playoff series to eventual '97 region champion Nederland, have five starters returning and a deep pitching staff, led by Brandon Roznovsky and Cullen Lampe. Offensively, 1B Matt Janner, 2B Michael McNeil, CF Dustin Majewski and RF Clint Doucet anchor the lineup.
4. NEDERLAND (30-6)-First-year coach Mark Byars will try to lead the Bulldogs back to the state tournament for the third time in four years. They graduated eight from their lineup but do return 1B Jereme Havard and 2B Daryn Ritchey and solid pitching with Jesse Floyd, Michael Melancon and Brad Bryant.
5. STRAKE JESUIT (19-12)-The defending TCIL state champs return 13 lettermen and nine starters, including all-state performers in C Drew Slania (.438 avg.) and 1B/RHP Steve Rowe. 2B Brian St. Aubin (.347), 3B Seth Flechsig (.333), RF Dennis Stasio (.384) and DH Ryan Simms (.340) all topped .330 last year.
6. JASPER (21-8)-Junior LHP Josh Girdley (6-3, 62 strikeouts in 51 IP last year) headlines a group of seven returning lettermen and six returning starters. The Bulldogs will be anchored offensively by 3B Jason Cowart and RF Justin Duckworth, who will join Girdley on the pitching staff.
7. HALLETTSVILLE (30-4)-The Brahmas, coming off their second Class 3A state title in three seasons, lost some hitters and consistent pitchers but welcome all-state SS/P Brad Dusek back from a year in which he hit .423 with nine HRs and 53 RBIs and was 3-0 on the mound. C Will Chapman (.312, 3 HRs) and 2B Andy Chovanetz solidify the offense.
8. COLUMBUS (14-9)-The Cardinals could surprise Hallettsville in District 22-3A, considered one of the toughest 3A circuits in the state. They have six starters back, led by SS Aaron Kollman and RHPs Kevin Poenitzsch and Kris Kuhn.
9. PORT NECHES-GROVES (13-15)- Former Nederland coach Jay Stone takes over for the rival Indians and inherits nine lettermen and six starters. 2B Mark Screen and SS Travis Hearn solidify the offense while RHP Bryan Gohlke will be the go-to player on the mound.
10. LIBERTY (24-5-1)-The Panthers, who lost in the regional finals to eventual state champ Hallettsville, will make another run for Austin with six starters back, including 3B/P J.R. Pickens, C/P John Goodwin and CF Tony Bua, all of whom garnered all-state honors last year.
OTHERS TO WATCH-El Campo (19-11), Sweeny (12-12), Weimar (22-8), New Caney (15-11), Bellville (23-3) and Second Baptist (19-9-1).
Class 5A rankings
1. SPRING (21-10 in 1997)- The Lions have to like their chances to win any game with Josh Beckett (9-4, 150 strikeouts last year) and Mike Bell (16 wins in two years) on the mound. Spring also returns five starters and will be better athletically and defensively than ever.
2. BELLAIRE (25-5)-The Cardinals should have a better overall pitching staff with righty Matt Laird and lefty Jon Gonzalez. Offensively, Rocky Manuel's squad is solid with 1B Tommy Crosby, SS Enrique Cruz, LF Kennard Bibbs, CF Kyle Smith and RF Barry Smith. Bellaire is going after its 10th trip to state and seventh state title.
3. CLEAR LAKE (21-8)-The Falcons, who lost in the region semis last year, figure to have better pitching behind lefties Jon Switzer (Arizona State signee) and Dan Willingham (Houston signee) and hitting with C Jed Morris and CF A.J. Porfirio. The hardest part might be surviving 24-5A.
4. ELKINS (18-9)-The Knights were young last year and could mature into the team to beat in the area. Rick Carpenter's group has solid pitching with RHPs Kevin Lawson (14-1 career), Jason Slanina and Jeremy Hart. The stacked batting order is led by 2B Mike Wilson, 1B Scott Huffman, SS Myron Johnson and RF Jeff Reed.
5. BRAZOSWOOD (25-11)-Scoring runs shouldn't be a problem for the Bucs, who return seven starters, including 1B Andy Cavazos (.486), 3B James Jurries (.462, 8 HR, 20 RBI) and OF/SS Trent Jones (.474, 8 HRs, 32 RBIs). Daniel Stringer (7-4) will be the No. 1 pitcher.
6. CLEAR CREEK (22-6)-Jim Mallory's team could contend for the region again with - what else? - pitching and defense. Pitchers Ryan Lambeth (8-1) and Derek Clifton (7-2) give the Wildcats an awesome 1-2 punch on the mound. Lambeth, who plays first base, hit .340 last spring in district.
7. CONROE (18-9)-The loss of transfer LHP Chad Boyd leaves the pitching burden on the shoulders of righty Carl Makowsky. But Conroe's lineup is solid, especially in the infield, where 1B Makowsky, 2B William Bolt, 3B Patrick Beale and SS Lou Ferrell are back.
8. KLEIN (13-11)- Rice signee Chris George, a lefty who can throw bullets, is one of the best pitchers around and is one of five starters back for the Bearkats. Klein's senior-laden ballclub has been playing together since their sophomore seasons and could jell.
9. FORT BEND AUSTIN (19-8)- - Don't bet on the Bulldogs missing the playoffs this year with eight starters back, including RHP Chris Sheffield. Austin shouldn't have problems scoring runs either with 2B Troy Holt, SS Jacob Gobar, CF Nick Waligura and 3B Sheffield all back to shore up the offense.
10. LAMAR (19-9)-Last year's state quarterfinalists return their entire infield - C Carson Samples, 1B Dash Kohlhausen, 2B Landon Keith, SS Hunter Brown and 3B Justin Massey - and Eddie Lang in RF. The biggest question will be pitching, where lefty Nick Martin and righty Wesley Simmons will vie for the No. 1 spot.
11. DOBIE (22-7-1)-The Longhorns' pitching is improved this year with holdovers Nathan Mitchell, 23-5A's MVP last year, and Russell Minter. Dobie has mostly unproven players elsewhere, sans the return of Mitchell at third base (.313) and Zach Roberts in center.
12. KLEIN OAK (16-10)-Two years removed from nearly winning a state title, the Panthers look to rebound from last season with six starters back and better team chemistry. Klein Oak's lineup is set with C Jerod McQuain, 2B Eric Schindewolf, SS Kyle Bridwell, LF Joe Colerick and RF Blake Davis.
13. THE WOODLANDS (26-4)-Look for the Highlanders, who lost in the Region II finals the last two years, to field a more athletic team this year. Leading the holdovers are C Brandon Natale and CF Boone DuBose. Pitching will be the big question mark as lefthanders Nick Hirsch and Matt Drosjack and righthander Ryan Rafferty take over.
14. SPRING WOODS (22-7)- Coach Charlie Maiorana's Tigers welcome back slugger Neal Stephenson, who was moved from third base to the outfield. He will get help offensively from 1B Tony Palazzolo and SS Keith Ahrens. Junior RHP Joseph Kantz (7-2) could have a breakthrough year.
15. BAYTOWN STERLING (24-3)- - New coach Paul Tadlock inherited a team that included RHP Dustin Lansford, who has signed with Texas A&M, and some experience at the plate with C Blake McRay, 1B Russell Wilks, 2B Robby Dickson, SS Chad Johnson, LF Rocky White and CF Stayton Powers.
Others to watch-Kingwood (22-7), Westfield (14-12), Baytown Lee (16-12), Cypress Creek (23-4) and Cypress Falls (22-10).
Copyright notice: All materials in this archive are copyrighted by Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspapers Partnership, L.P., or its news and feature syndicates and wire services. No materials may be directly or indirectly published, posted to Internet and intranet distribution channels, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed in any medium. Neither these materials nor any portion thereof may be stored in a computer except for personal and non-commercial use.