Many years, the Big Country produces only a few, if any, Division I baseball or softball players. Not this year, however.
Five Big Country athletes have already signed letters-of-intent with Division I programs. With Stamford pitcher Citlaly Gutierrez having signed to play softball at the University of Texas next year, and pitchers Tate Yardley (Texas Tech) and Blain Palmer (Abilene Christian University) of Jim Ned, and Wylie pitcher Brooks Gay (ACU) and catcher Landon Williams (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) headed for collegiate baseball careers after graduation later this spring, this could be an exciting baseball and softball season in the Big Country.
This is our third installment of Varsity Preview. Earlier, we published a football and volleyball preview magazine, followed by a publication previewing Big Country boys and girls basketball teams. Now, it is our opportunity to turn the spotlight on the upcoming high school baseball and softball seasons.
Winning a state championship is hard. Winning two in a row is more difficult, but that is what the Stamford girls softball team is trying to accomplish this spring.
The Lady Bulldogs became only the fourth Big Country softball team to capture a state title when they rallied to edge Crawford 5-4 in the Class 2A state championship game last year. Only Hawley in 1995 and 1997 and Eula in 2006 have previously brought home a state softball championship trophy from Austin.
With eight returning starters, including state tournament MVP Gutierrez, Stamford appears primed to make another run for a state championship. But winning back-to-back state titles is not easy. No softball team is Texas has done it since Slocum captured the Class 1A crown in 2017 and 2018.
Getting out of Region I-2A won’t be a piece of cake, either. District rival Anson lost to Stamford in the regional semifinals, and Hawley and Cisco both made it to the regional quarterfinals. Eula advanced to the Class 1A regional final and Abilene Cooper reached the Class 5A regional semifinals last spring.
No Big Country baseball team made the state tournament last year, but a number of teams got close. Anson reached the Class 2A regional final, while Baird in Class 1A, Albany in 2A, Jim Ned in 3A and Wylie in Class 5A all made it to the regional semifinals.
Wylie had eight players sign to play at the next level a year ago, but the Bulldogs’ cupboard is not bare. In fact, four more Wylie seniors have already signed –Williams to Louisiana-Lafayette, Gay to ACU, infielder J.T. Thompson to Lubbock Christian and third baseman Garrett Graham in Midland College.
Jim Ned, which saw its unbeaten season come to a crashing end in a loss to Shallowater in a regional semifinal series last year, has two pitchers (Yardley and Palmer) who have signed with Division I schools, a luxury that not many teams, let alone a Class 3A school, have.
Jim Ned, Wylie, Early, Anson, Albany and Baird, among others, all could be ready to make deep playoff runs in baseball again this season, too.
So, we are ready for the first pitch of the new season. We hope you are, too, after reading Varsity Preview.