Experienced, confident Tompkins off to 14-0 start
KATY—A year removed from the best season in program history, Tompkins’ baseball players and coaches feel they’re even better this year.
It’d be tough to argue otherwise. The Falcons are 14-0 this season, 1-0 in District 19-6A following Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Katy Taylor. With every pitcher and all but two starters in the lineup returning from last year’s 32-9-1 regional semifinalist, Tompkins has outscored its opponents by more than 100 runs this season, 130-29.
“We’ve got good team chemistry,” coach Kyle Humphreys said. “Last year, when bad things happened behind us on defense, or we weren’t having good at-bats, it would carry over into the next inning. It was ‘woe is me.’ This year, we know we have a good lineup, and if something bad happens, it’s, hey, let’s go hit. We know we’re going to score. They feel confident in themselves that they can return anything that comes at them.”
The Falcons learned from last year’s stinging loss to Strake Jesuit in the postseason. Tompkins won Game 1, 8-1. The Crusaders rallied to take the next two games, 5-1 and 5-2, to win the series.
“We can’t take any game for granted,” senior outfielder and Texas A&M signee Jace LaViolette said. “We kind of went out there thinking we’d just get the ‘W’ after that (Game 1) win. They showed us we have to come prepared and be ready to play, attack every inning and every at-bat.”
Tompkins got off to a slow start against Taylor, a tough 9-8 club seeking a second straight trip to the playoffs. The game was scoreless through four innings as each team failed to take advantage of initial opportunities.
With two runners on with one out in the fourth inning, Tompkins flew out to left and center in its next two at-bats. In the top of the fifth, Taylor put two runners in scoring position on with two outs before Falcons right-handed senior starter Trevor Esparza struck out Hunter Ham, the Mustangs’ No. 3 hitter, swinging.
In their frame of the fifth is when the Falcons got things going. Tompkins scored four runs on three hits, starting with LaViolette’s RBI double with two runners on and one out.
.@JaceLaViolette2 RBI double. #txhsbase @OTHSFalconBase @OTHSABClub @othsstudentspic.twitter.com/aELZrDCosL— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1647391147
Junior Adam Benavidez drew a bases-loaded walk, and junior Ty Dagley followed with a two-run single.
Tompkins was 3-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We slowed the game down,” LaViolette said. “The game was speeding up. We got a few people on base and did whatever we needed to do whenever we got runners in scoring position.”
That was more than enough offense for Esparza, who improved to 4-0 on the mound and is pitching lights-out for the Falcons. He threw the team’s first complete game of the season, striking out eight, walking none, and allowing six scattered hits.
Five strikeouts with four hits and no walks in four innings of work so far for @trevor_jett_. #txhsbase @OTHSFalconBasepic.twitter.com/naXHbSOPRg— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1647389194
“My main goal is to throw strikes and let my fielders work,” Esparza said. “I try to mix in my curveball a little bit. This year, I’m way more confident. I’ve been working really hard on my velocity, my pitches, my pitch location. It’s a big confidence thing for me.”
The Falcons’ first guy out of the bullpen last season, Esparza knew he was in for a bigger role this year. He was hitting 86-89 miles per hour in scrimmages, but now hovers consistently around the high 90’s.
“With Trevor, we don’t walk a whole bunch of guys,” Humphreys said. “We play defense behind him and keep the pressure on them. His fastball command was outstanding today. It’s a credit to him, throwing strikes. A lot of guys in high school, there’s 100 pitches in five innings. He was able to get to 100 the last pitch of the game. Great outing for him.”
Humphreys said Esparza is his No. 1 arm for now, but there’s also plenty of firepower behind him in senior lefty Solomon Rotberg, who already has a no-hitter this season, and senior righty Michael DeBattista.
“Any guy we’re throwing out there is giving us a chance to win,” Humphreys said. “As long as they’re throwing strikes. And if they’re not, I take them out and someone else is going in.”
The Falcons are a loaded club, one that has seven players committed to play college baseball.
Tompkins has players playing through injuries. Others are playing through pain. Humphreys does not have a team that’s at full health.
Still, the Falcons, ailing or not, play on, largely because they understand the opportunity on hand.
“They’re doing what they can to give their full effort,” Humphreys said. “They know what we have.”
In the dugout, spectators might not notice a lot of noise, rattling, and yelling during games. It would be wise to not confuse that as apathy. Tompkins is a team that is more studious in nature than animated.
“We’re not a rah-rah team. These guys are focused,” Humphreys said. “Sometimes, people think that when you hear a lot of energy from the dugout, that’s when guys are really into it. They’re not. Our guys are watching the game, watching the pitcher and his delivery, and picking up on things that they can take advantage of. Paying attention to what guys throw in certain counts.”
It’s the nature of the beast for a team that’s getting every opponent’s best shot, night in and night out.
“Most of us are seniors and we want to make this last ride count,” Esparza said. “Losing last year really sucked, and we don’t want to experience that again. The goal is state.”