— By GREG WEBB
ROUND ROCK — In terms of athletic performance, and enjoying success at a high level, a sage adage is to “act like you’ve been there before.” None of the four teams in the Class 4A State Baseball Tournament had been there before, but there was certainly one who played the part.
Aledo played near errorless baseball in its two-game stint at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, enjoyed masterful pitching and enough hitting to best the other bests in the state, culminating with a 4-0 victory over the Victoria East Titans in the championship match on Friday.
Aside from formidable talent of the Aledo baseball team who seemed to find their apex of play level at precisely the right time, the two handfuls of Bearcats who have played in the “Big Show” before proved to be a good advantage.
“Our guys who played football helped set the tone for competing at this level and as we went through the playoffs,” said Aledo head baseball coach Chad Barry. “Obviously its a different game, but the mentality is the same.
“You have to prioritize and block out all of the external distractions.”
Aledo senior hurler Taco Anderson, who pitched a 3-hit gem and was named the Championship Game’s Most Valuable Player by the press writers, acknowledged the clear advantage of being able to focus on the task at hand.
I really think we developed nerves of steel because of the experience we had in football,” Anderson said. “We were playing in front of 30,000 people in football, so I think that prepared us well, even though the it’s a different sport.
“And that helped the team as a whole, as well.”
Friday’s title match was set up when Aledo eliminated Hallsville, 9-1, and the Titans beat George Ranch. 4-1.
The 4A State Final was a meeting of two teams who did not claim titles in there own district. Aledo went into postseason as the third seed from District 7, the Titans as District 30’s second seed.
“Neither one of these teams won their district, so I guess both of us are kind of Cinderella stories,” Barry said. “It’s really a testament to hard work and team work to do so well in the playoffs.”
In contrast to Thursday’s semifinal, when it took the Bearcats a few innings to break the scoring ice, Aledo scored a run in their first at bat. After Tyson Mauser’s leadoff hit and Wade Raburn’s walk found the runners at second and third, courtesy of a passed ball, Zayne Willems groundout produced and RBI. Willems would come back to hit safely twice, totalling three runs batted in.
“I was pretty nervous before the game, but getting that run in the first inning really helped me settle down,” Anderson said.
Blanking the Titans in the bottom frame, Aledo added another run in the second. Then Anderson just settled in and started working.
“Ive had good command of my fastball all through the playoffs,” the Brown University commit said. “My splitter and curve had not been as good, but tonight I was hitting my spots with all of them.”
Anderson struck out four batters while walking just one, but with the defensive prowess the Bearcats displayed, including a late-game circus catch by center fielder Raburn, pitching to make the Titans hit worked out just fine. In the two games in Round Rock, Aledo defense was a single error short of perfection behind their hurlers. The lone miscue did not hurt Aledo.
Coach Barry was understandably generous in heaping praise on his aces.
“(Taco) just seemed to get better with each start, especially during the playoffs, as you’ve seen,” Barry said. “He just got stronger each and every week.”
“And I just can’t say enough about the way Chris pitched [on Thursday]. We’ve had good, strong pitching all year long. “That has kept us in a lot of games, even when we weren’t hitting.”
But the hitting did come around for Aledo, with even more consistency as they hit postseason. The Bearcats totalled 18 hits and 13 runs in the state tournament.
“We seemed to get our swing back as a team,” Barry said. “Sometimes its been the top or bottom part [of the batting order] and sometimes the middle.”
The Aledo margin after two innings in Friday’s title game seemed much larger than its 2-0 lead through five innings, with the command of Anderson’s pitches and the defensive play behind him.
When Willem’s single in the sixth (advancing to second on the throw from the outfield) scored Zack Slemmons (pinch-running after Hershel Gardner’s walk) and right fielder Zane Scott, the wind went out of the Victoria school’s sails and the Bearcats closed out the final two innings with proficiency.
On Thursday, Aledo erased the one-run Hallsville lead in the third inning, and kept scoring in each subsequent frame while Reed stymied the Bobcat bats. First baseman Dakota Durant had the big stroke in the semifinal, clearing the bases with a double in the fifth frame.
Raburn, Connor Duer and Scott joined Durant with two hits each.
Ending its Championship season with a 34-6-2 record, Aledo baseball joins the Ladycats softball team with concurrent state titles.
Although the feat of a school winning softball and baseball championships in the same season has happened twice before, it has never been the case at the Class 4A level.
But adding the “minor” tickler of a single school winning baseball, softball and football championships in the same school year — that distinction belongs only to Aledo High School in UIL history.