The Brock Eagles narrowly missed a repeat trip to the state tournament in Round Rock in 2019, falling to eventual Class 3A champion Wall in a three-game regional finals series (handing the Hawks their lone loss of the year in the process).
Now heading into the team’s 2020 campaign, Brock Head Coach Hart Hering said it is important for his team to strike a balance between using that final 2019 series as motivational fuel and keeping the squad’s collective focus on the here and now.
“I certainly think the game teaches you a lot of things along the way, and I think year to year you can use other teams as examples,” Hering said.
“But for the most part we do try to wipe the slate clean and try to focus on this year’s group. We want to push forward with those guys and keep the focus on what we can do day in and day out to prepare ourselves to be in those big games.
“Falling short just one game of reaching our ultimate goal of playing for a state championship at Dell Diamond, it does fuel your offseason and keeps guys hungry to come back and get back to that point.
“It’s a combination of both for me, using last year as some drive and motivation, but again, we’re new, it’s a different year, we’ve got some younger kids that don’t have that same experience, so we’re keeping the focus on what we can do to control our own destiny.”
Similar to last year, the Eagles own plenty of youth, with the program set to feature a squad absent of any seniors.
However, the Eagles’ young median age represents an exciting opportunity to build up another contender molded in the philosophy of Brock baseball, Hering said.
“We don’t have a senior in the program, so we’re gonna be young, and pretty much have everyone return next year, so we’re really set up to be good down the road, and that’s encouraging for me to see these young guys really compete and get the experience to help us moving forward,” Hering said.
“We started upwards of five sophomores on last year’s team, and a handful of our guys got valuable experience at the varsity level, so those sophomores who were in the fire last year are a year older and more experienced and are gonna be mainstays in our lineup.”
Hering added that he expects that large junior class to fill crucial leadership roles this season.
“Tyler Riddle is a guy who helps make us go,” Hering said.
“He’s one who has been with us since he was a freshman and has contributed at a pretty high level. He’s a guy who most the other guys are drawn to in a leadership role. Being in the position he plays as a catcher, he’s kind of the quarterback of our defense and really helps manage our pitching staff. And he’s set to have a big offensive year as well, so I look to him to be one of the key leaders of our program.
“Carson Lightfoot had a great year last season, he was 9-1 on the mound, pitched in some big ballgames for us. He’s got all the stuff. He’s more quiet and reserved, so he’s more of a lead-by-example kind of guy. He’s one I think our kids will feel confident in every time he takes the mound.
“Jaxon Gleaton at shortstop is one at another key position at this level of baseball, he no doubt makes plays and plays with a lot of energy and guys will be drawn to him as well.
“Those are some guys I feel like could be some impact players and give us great leadership.”
With that said, Hering expressed excitement regarding the continued development of the Eagles’ underclassmen as well.
“We have some solid young talent coming in,” Hering said.
“Tyler Moody is a freshman who has a real chance to make an impact for our team. He’s a very versatile player, athletic and I’m really excited about his ability and talent. Hopefully we can use that and plug him in to our already pretty solid junior class.
“Peyton Shaffer offensively has shown signs of being a very clutch player for us. He got several key pinch hits off the bench for us a freshman last year, and we’re counting on him to really step up and help drive in runs and produce in the middle of our order.
“There’s another couple freshmen that are in the mix as well who are obviously improving.”
Confidence in Brock’s 2020 roster extends beyond the team’s coaching staff, with several of the Eagles including Riddle and Shaffer echoing Hering’s comments about the lineup.
“I think we’ll be good, there’s a lot of younger kids coming up we’re gonna have to rely on in different spots, probably playing in positions they haven’t played in before, but I think our offense is gonna come, I think we’ve got some young kids that are gonna step up on the mound,” Riddle said.
“We’re gonna be pretty good this year, we have a lot of freshmen coming up,” Shaffer said.
“We’re gonna have a lot of new pitchers on the mound. They’ve looked pretty good, they’re gonna fill some good spots for us and help us get the job done. Our hitting and defense are going to be really good this year.”
That squad will be tested early and often in non-district play in preparation for a tough district slate, Hering said.
“We’re gonna stay pretty local this go around to start the season,” Hering said.
“Typically in the past we’ve gone to some overnight tournaments, travel a pretty good distance to go play some different opponents we don’t typically see year in and year out, but this year we decided to stay local. We play in the round-robin tournament in Lipan to start the year.
“You just never know how many guys we’re gonna be waiting on coming out of basketball, and early in the year we just wanted an easy transition into the start of the year.
“We have a super challenging scrimmage schedule, we’re playing some top opponents there, and we’ll challenge our kids really early, we want to start to build their confidence as quickly as we can. We want to put ourselves in tournaments we feel like we can compete in, so we’re gonna go to Lipan week one, and then actually for the first time ever we’re hosting both the second and third weekends. Traditionally our third weekend tournament right before spring break we host a number of teams.
In addition, Hering said Brock will host a tournament put together by the American Cancer Society this upcoming season.
“They added us as an additional host site,” Hering said.
“So we’ve got a tough slate with some 4A opponents in that one, and we will get a good test there, and then obviously we’ll be bringing in some quality teams for our third weekend tournament here at home.
“We like to play a solid tournament schedule just to prepare our guys for what they might see in district. It’s year to year, it changes with your team, so I like our schedule early on, I think it’s really gonna get our guys in the mode to compete in district.”
The Eagles’ gauntlet does not let up from there, with the team set to compete in a District 7-3A landscape full of capable outfits, Hering said.
“As we enter spring break, we start district play and that’s gonna be a challenge right off the bat,” Hering said.
“Breckenridge is really strong, they were one of the top teams in the region last year, they made it to the regional semifinals and were knocked out by Wall. They return a lot of players, and they’re actually ranked in one of the preseason publications as No. 2 in the state, so Breckenridge definitely has a talented squad.
“Paradise is a team that didn’t lose a whole lot of guys either, they’re more experienced now and have two quality arms that are gonna keep them in every district ballgame.
“Boyd has a college-level arm, they’ve shown signs of being one of the top teams in our district. Peaster is improving from last year, I think they’ll have an even better year than last year just with more experience and a couple quality arms in their rotation which will keep them competitive at the top of the district.
“And then I certainly think some of the other teams are continuing to build their programs. Jacksboro, Millsap and Tolar, any given day you have to play your best to beat those guys, so there’s really no free passes in this district. I think it’s one of the top in the region, if not the state, so it’s a complete challenge from top to bottom and should be a tightly-contested race for the top spots in the standings.”
Hering added that the tough district competition Brock faces year in and year out has helped his squad, as well as other teams in the district, find success in postseason play.
“You kind of jockey for position for a good playoff draw and hopefully put yourself in a position to make a run, and I think why our teams are doing so well in the playoffs is because of the challenging games two times a week we’re all battling each other,” Hering said.
“So we’re in those playoff-type games and I feel like that’s giving some of our district’s members a good chance in the postseason.”
While plenty of challenges lie ahead, Hering expressed an eagerness for the chance to soon start competing again for a ticket to Round Rock.
“This is the time of year that you get really busy, but also really excited about the opportunities ahead,” Hering said.
“You’ve got a new group of kids that are eager to learn and develop. It’s fun to prepare and plan for things which will help these young players reach their potential, so it’s very exciting for me and the coaching staff to get our hands on these guys and mold them into our style and philosophy of how we play Brock baseball.
“There’s certainly buzz in the air, and we’re ready to bust it out.”