The Aledo Bearcats saw nine of their own sign letters of intent to continue their respective baseball careers at the collegiate level back in the fall, members of a team which also netted the orange and black 13 all-district honors during the 2019 season.
After an early postseason exit following a Class 5A bi-district series loss to Lubbock Monterey, the Bearcats found themselves fixed on a new goal, one they are eager to start working toward in 2020, Head Coach Chad Barry said.
“Last year, I’m not going to lie, I was bitter at the end of the season as were our kids,” Barry said.
“We felt like we played a horrible series in the first round and got beat. And I think that’s been on the front of our minds going through offseason, summer ball and getting back to this point, trying to erase that and create a new ending.
“I think that’s kind of been our driving force and we’re chomping at the bit to get back out there.”
That, coupled with a such a large number of college signees and district award winners returning to the squad, stands to help cultivate the culture needed to achieve those goals, Barry said.
“We’ve got basically our whole infield back, our whole outfield, our catcher and most of our starting pitching back,” Barry said.
“And then we’ve got some young kids who are probably going to be making their varsity debut this year including Nolan Garcia, Zach Harrison, possibly Tristan Thurman and a handful of others.
“But it’s gonna be really tough to get on the field because there’s so much competition on our team. There’s so many of them that have signed to go to college, I think every game we’re gonna have a college signee sitting on the bench somewhere. I think it’s going to create a great atmosphere to compete in, especially in practice.”
Consistency from the team’s returning core stands as another crucial piece to the Bearcats’ success heading into the new year, Barry added.
“We were young last year, but we gained a lot of valuable experience,” Barry said.
“I think guys like Garrison Berkley who’s been on varsity since he was a freshman, Nathen Fingar has been on varsity since he was a freshman, those guys really need to have great years. I think Max Lucas, Jake Bishop, Will Sisk need to contribute heavily. Both of our starting pitchers from last season are back, and when we get Hayden Poston back, I think he fits into the mix.
“And then we’ve got some younger guys like Creed Willems, who started as a sophomore last year. He’s really solid behind the plate.”
Two aspects of his team’s makeup in particular Barry praised were the group’s cohesiveness and player leadership, items which will help the program’s younger players understand what Aledo baseball is all about.
“It’s a pretty unique group of kids, we don’t seem to have any major ego issues,” Barry said.
“I think they’re all a bunch of guys who want to work hard. They hang out all the time. They seem to be a pretty close-knit group. I’d say all of those guys will be counted on to be leaders in the way they handle themselves and adversity.
“Creed Willems has become one of the leaders of this team. Garrison Berkley has stepped up and been a really good leader. I think Will Sisk has been a really solid leader, he models how to go about your business each and every day, especially for the younger players.
“But there’s several of them that have seemed to step up their game and grown up a lot.”
Those attributes have fueled an eagerness and optimism among the Bearcats, including Berkley, who cited the team’s ability to work well in unison.
“I think this team has the talent and drive to bring a state title back to Aledo,” Berkley said.
“Coming off a disappointing season last year, this group is more determined than ever to compete for a state championship.
“The camaraderie and chemistry this group has built from playing together for so many years allows us to be on the same page and work as one. Also, with the majority of the team returning, we understand what it takes and the work ethic essential to win games.
“For a lot of us, this is the last time being Bearcats all together, so we’re going to leave everything on the field.”
It is a sentiment shared by Willems.
“I feel that our team this year is capable of accomplishing anything that we set our minds to,” Willems said.
“We have the ability to win state and have a near perfect season if we continue to work as we have this offseason.”
Fingar added that the Bearcats’ collective speed and power at the plate also stand as major boons for the squad.
“We are very speed-oriented and have a lot of power throughout the lineup,” Fingar said.
“I think as long as we continue to have fun and play as a team, we will be pretty hard to beat.”
That group will kick the year off with a trio of tournament appearances, each of which should prove a challenge, Barry said.
“The first tournament we’ll co-host here, with Weatherford, Azle and a couple other locations. So that will be good competition, there’s always some good teams in that. “The second tournament I think will probably be our toughest, we go to the DFW Clash hosted by Denton Guyer, Southlake and Flower Mound. So we’re gonna play some pretty large 6A schools that are year in and year out pretty savvy on the baseball field, so I think that will help prepare us as well.
“And then the third week we’ll go to the Drew Medford Classic, hosted by Paschal, Mansfield, Arlington Martin and Midlothian which was a really good team in 5A last year.”
After that comes a District 4-5A slate including Abilene Cooper, Wichita Falls Rider, Wichita Falls and Abilene Wylie, a small competition pool which stands to present sizable competition, Barry said.
“I think the whole district overall is going to be improved,” Barry said.
“Everybody seemed to have a really young squad last year. I know Abilene Wylie has a bunch of kids back, they were really young last year. We were fairly young as well, so we’ve got a lot of kids back. Cooper was young and competitive. They’re a very scrappy team. Rider is going to be much improved and Wichita Falls will be improved as well.
“It’s a pretty small district so there’s gonna be one odd man out, so we better come ready to play each and every game.”