If the Athens Hornets are to advace past the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs for the first time since 2007, they’re going to have to bring their big bats with them.
And use them.
A talented Hornet team was cut down early last year after the offense managed just eight hits over the final two games of a bi-district series against Lufkin Hudson. They had only two hits in the series-clincher, a 2-1 loss.
That Athens team had won 14 straight games heading into the second game of the series and subsequently lost the next two to exit the postseason. This team — with a 23-8 record — will enter the playoffs today against the Diboll Lumberjacks (16-11) with the most wins of any Hornet baseball team since 1997, when Gerald Wood’s club finished as a 27-3 regional semifinalist.
Athens Head Coach Patrick Penry knows none of that matters much. All that matters is the here and now.
“We are finally getting healthy, we are swinging it pretty good and most importantly we are competing and finding ways to win as a team,” Penry said.
Indeed, the Hornets have had to weather injuries and illnesses to several starters, including three seniors — Luke Solomon, Cody Carson and Morgan Sellers. Each are better now and will be counted on to provide the punch the offense will need to beat Diboll, the third-place team out of District 18-3A.
There’s no telling which Lumberjack the Hornets will see on the mound for any given game in the series. Cole Colwell has the most wins of anyone on the staff at 3-2, but seven other Diboll pitchers have won at least one game.
None will likely be looking forward to facing the Hornets’ lineup, which includes dangerous hitters from top to bottom. Ageless senior Hunter Choate, a four-year varsity starter, leads the team with seven homers, and he’s Penry’s biggest power threat at the plate.
Solomon is equally as dangerous, as evidenced by his two-homer day last Saturday in a 6-4 warm-up game win over Prosper.
Carson and Sellers also have plenty of pop, and Penry has been able to count on a stable of underclassmen — including Adam Stallings, Will Kirkland, Ryan Hornsby and Garrett Conley — for production all season.
Said Penry: “Every kid in our dugout has a role and they have all stepped up their game.”
Region III-3A bi-district
Athens (23-8) vs. Diboll (16-11)
at Tatum High School
Game 1: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, 7 p.m.*
* if necessary