Will there be a changing of the guard this spring?
The Stamford softball team has been the most dominant team in the Big Country over the last two years, winning a Class 2A state championship in 2021 and losing in a one-run heart-breaker in the semifinals of the state tournament last year.
Gone, however, is Stamford’s ace pitcher Citlaly Gutierrez, who is now pitching for the University of Texas Lady Longhorns. The architect of those Stamford teams, Cynthia Herrera, has left, too, to become the new softball coach at Breckenridge.
Stamford, which won 57 games and pair of district titles over the past two years, isn’t ready to give up its dominance, however. The Lady Bulldogs still return four starters off those state tournament teams, including all-state shortstop Laylonna Applin.
If any team can dethrone Stamford in District 8-2A, it might be Hamlin. The Lady Pipers return all 10 starters from a team that won 23 games, finished runner-up to Stamford and then advanced to the regional final before losing again to their district rival Lady Bulldogs.
Abilene Wylie in Class 5A and Merkel in Class 3A are two other softball teams with large numbers of returning starters from teams that made deep playoff runs a year ago.
On the baseball side, Albany is looking to complete a rare double. The Lions won a state football championship last fall and, with many of the same kids, could be the Big Country’s top contender to earn a Class 2A state title in baseball this spring.
Albany returns seven starters from last year’s team that went 21-6 and reached the regional finals. Cole Chapman, who quarterbacked the Lions’ football team to a state title, is also the team’s ace pitcher with a 10-2 record a year ago.
The University Interscholastic League’s biennial realignment didn’t bring a lot of changes for Big Country baseball and softball teams. The biggest change was Bangs dropping from Class 3A to 2A and Abilene High falling from Class 6A to Class 5A. The Eagles’ switch means all three Abilene public schools – Abilene High, Cooper and Wylie – will be in the same district for the first time, District 4-5A, with four Lubbock schools.
Abilene High has a new baseball coach in Brad Harman. There are a handful of other baseball coaching changes, most notable Mario Estrada who takes over a Jim Ned team that won 55 games over the past two years.
Wylie has reached the Class 5A regional quarterfinals two years in a row before twice running into nemesis Aledo.
For those of us who have spent countless hours sitting in the bleachers at baseball and softball fields across the Big Country, there is one thing we know: There is nothing colder than those early February and March tournament games where the wind chills will be lower that the best pitchers’ earned run averages.
But by the time the postseason gets started in May and teams begin their quest for a trip to the state tournament in Austin or Round Rock, the temperatures will have heated up and the those cold bleacher seats in February will be a long forgotten memory.
We hope the second annual Varsity Preview spring edition will heat things up as we all get ready for the upcoming baseball and softball seasons.