Hornets prep for fourth consecutive postseason

Apr. 29—HUNTSVILLE — Baseball season is not quite over for Huntsville as it is headed to its fourth consecutive playoff appearance.

With a 16-13 record and the fourth seed from District 16, 5A, the Hornets are set to face a former district rival in the Bi-District round of the Class 5A playoffs.

After a 23-7 finish, and 11-3 in district play, Whitehouse grabbed the District 15, 5A, title from Hallsville to create a new Bi-District opponent for Huntsville after three straight bouts against them.

With a Hornets squad nearing full health, it should set up for a fun series against the Wildcats, the No. 8 team in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association poll.

"This year was an interesting year for us. We've had more injuries this year than in the past and a lot of different lineups than in the past. That was due to several things," Huntsville head coach Justin Jennings said. "It's a little bit different this year. We felt like this was one of the better clubs we had going in it. We've gone into this thing the last three years as a four and played well with anybody."

While these two squads haven't played each other since the 2021 season, there is still a bit of information that the teams can rely on as some of the now varsity guys played them before.

"I think it helps. It's a lot of the same guys that played two and three years ago. We've seen some of their pitchers and position players. We have kept in contact with some of them still playing Lufkin and Nacogdoches since they play in East Texas," Jennings said. "We are familiar with them and know what they bring to the table."

The key for Huntsville will be their guy on the bump. Junior Van Brady has stepped up to become the Hornets' top pitcher. Making the Tuesday starts, Brady racked up 50 innings of work. His shortest outing came against Nacogdoches on March 9th when he went five innings.

Outside of that, he has been locked down. Brady pitched seven district games for Huntsville and allowed 33 hits and 16 runs. Being the Hornets' lockdown guy, he will likely get the Game 1 start to allow Huntsville to win.

The big question Huntsville brings is who goes for Game 2. The Hornets have used a slew of arms to get through district play. Senior Gage Dorris is coming off Tommy John surgery and started on the mound this year. But he became inconsistent and made three appearances in district play.

Junior Colton Gilbert was another arm that the Hornets were going to rely on but, like Dorris, he saw ebbs and flows. Gilbert racked up 28.2 innings in district play where he had 25 runs scored on him. But, he threw an eight-inning shutout against Porter to give the Hornets a sweep over the Spartans.

"Van works hard and we knew he and Colton would be good for us this year by the way they go about their business," Jennings said. "I tell people in the three years they have been in the program, they do the best job of playing catch since I have been here. We knew Van was going to be pretty good but we didn't expect him to be this good right now. Van has come a long way and done what we needed him to."

Other arms Huntsville has thrown in district were senior Lucas Fullwood, 6.1 innings, Carson Woods, 2/3rds innings, Brian Parker Jr., 2 innings, Chrystian Wimberly, 3 innings and William Barrett, 5 1/3 innings.

While the pitching can bring some questions, Huntsville will need its offense to play like it did to close the season against Dayton. The Hornets posted 10 runs in the first inning to break the game open.

Josh Stanley kicked things off with a first-pitch double that was followed by five straight singles to keep moving the runners over. The streak ended with a SAC fly before three more Hornets reached base safely.

However, the offensive production has been off-and-on for the Hornets. Through 15 district games, Huntsville averaged 3.5 runs per game and was shut out once by Lufkin.

Getting the bats going is going to have to start at the top for Huntsville. A lineup that has changed for much of the season has seen Dorris, Noah Neito, Nolan Hunt and Brian Parker Jr. bat near the top and have been the most reliable.

As the Hornets have a plan, they will need to execute against a couple of strong arms that Whitehouse brings to the bump.

"There's too many lulls throughout the game. There are times when we lose focus and get away from what we are trying to do. That is the big thing about playoffs, you need to execute what you do. You need to have an approach and a plan, which we always do, sometimes we lack the attention to execute. We talked before practice today and had a good conversation and we've been locked in."

The Wildcats' senior right-hander Michael Dudolski has topped out at 91 MPH on his fastball. Whitehouse brings a left that can slow things down with a curveball.

With two strong arms, Whitehouse also brings an offense that has plated 205 runs this season and is not scared to play small ball and force the defense to make plays.

"We will have to do a good job against the lefty with his curveball. With their righty, we have to be disciplined at the plate. Defensively, we have to be ready for the bunts and they like to do things on the bases, we are going to be ready for it," Dorris said.

For the third time in four years of making the postseason, Huntsville will bring its fans the opportunity to play the game on its home turf. The two squads will play a home-and-home playoff series with the if-needed third game taking place in Lufkin.

The Hornets and the Wildcats are scheduled for a 7 p.m. Wednesday in Whitehouse before the return game at 6 p.m. Friday in Huntsville.

It will be the first playoff game hosted in the new Huntsville Baseball/Softball Complex that opened this season.

"That was my number one thing. I wanted to play a home playoff game. It's huge for our kids, these seniors have made four straight playoff appearances and now they get to play a home playoff game. I don't think you can put into words how big that is for us and the program. We are excited for that opportunity," Jennings said.