On hard work and togetherness, Milby enjoying historic season
At the start of their freshman season four years ago, Milby senior Jonathan Gonzales and some of his teammates taped a note to the wall of their homeroom classroom.
“We made it a goal of ours and wrote down that we were going to go past the third round (of the playoffs) in our junior or senior seasons,” Gonzales said. “We knew it had never been done before. We wanted to be the team to do it and make a state run.”
Gonzales’s teacher never took that note off the wall.
“So, for us to look back and know that our old selves would look up to the players we are today is a testament to the amount of work, faith and dedication we have to the team and the game,” Gonzales said. “The season has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. We’ve faced many ups and even more downs, but always trusted each other and got through it.”
Right now, the Buffaloes are on the highest of ups, 30-8 and in the regional semifinals for the first time. It’s been a season made for the movies.
Fourteen seniors are seeing their longtime goals come to fruition, and head baseball coach Carlos Morales and his three assistants Jesse Longoria, Ray Ramirez and Jorge Castillo—all Milby alumni—have captained the storybook campaign.
“It’s been great. It’s been exciting,” said Morales, Class of 1988, in his 26th year coaching at Milby and 20th as head coach. “I think all of us have been here and seen our season come to an end in the first or second round of the playoffs, year in and year out. For us to break that cycle and get past that has been awesome.”
Milby is 6-2 in the playoffs, with series wins over Angleton, Santa Fe and La Porte. The Buffs won District 23-5A with a 12-0 record.
Milby is in the regional semifinals for the first time in program history.Photo by Mario Puente | @LifeOfMarioP
FINDING A WAY
Milby enters this weekend’s best-of-three regional semifinals against Lake Creek having won 17 of its last 20 games. Not bad for a school with a baseball field that has no centerfield fence and was little more than grass and two slabs of concrete as recently as four years ago.
“To make it this far for anyone is huge,” Morales said. “But for an inner-city school that has a few more obstacles, it’s extra special. We don’t have all the nice facilities and stuff like other schools. There’s economic obstacles. But what we have, we have pride in, and we make the most out of it. Our guys find a way to do it on the field, just like they’ll find a way to deal with things later in life.”
It’s personal for the players.
“I don’t think Milby has been taken seriously and has been portrayed as something it’s not,” Gonzales said. “We’re more than the categories some may put us in. I’m proud to be a part of the generation that puts Milby and the community on the map. Coach Mo always tells us that players who may have it harder will always want it more because it means more. I definitely see those words guiding us and proving to be true.”
Gonzales and those 13 other seniors are the backbone of the program. Most of them are four-year varsity lettermen.
They have fostered a culture of hard work, leadership and love for one another and the game.
“We’re all pulling the same rope,” Gonzales said. “We all know our roles and parts on the team. All the hard work we’ve put in, not only this year but the past four years, is paying off and coming together. The fans … I don’t like to call them fans because they’re more than that. Our moms and dads, family, old coaches, friends, teachers and teammates … they’ve helped lead up to all of this.”
Morales knew this team had the chance to be good when it earned a few tough wins early in season against Tomball, Episcopal and Lutheran South.
“(Those are) Teams that are, year in and year out, in the playoffs and making deep runs, and we were able to find a way to win,” Morales said. “Some of those games were come-from-behind wins where our guys just kept battling. Our guys just don’t quit. Those are the times when you realize we could be pretty good.”
Milby baseball coach Carlos Morales, far right, looks on with his team during a recent game this season.Photo by Mario Puente | @LifeOfMarioP
FUN AND FOCUS
The Buffaloes are getting production from everyone.
Senior Fabian Ramirez is the ace with a 7-2 record and 68 strikeouts. Gonzales is a monster two-way talent at second base. Senior Jhaeden Bowers pitches and plays centerfield. Senior Jonathan Siguenza has stepped up big in relief this postseason. Senior Adam Rodriguez is a stalwart at catcher. Senior Christian Torres always manages to come up with consistent, workmanlike at-bats. Junior Arthur Perez is a sparkplug as the 3-hole hitter.
And then there are the youngsters.
Sophomore Jacob Lopez has impressed as Rodriguez’s backup. Sophomore shortstop Fredy Romero is a stud in the making, often leaving Morales in awe by making difficult plays look easy. Sophomore Leo Berrones is invaluable as a utilityman, playing and excelling wherever needed on the left side of the field.
“It’s a lot of guys contributing right now,” Morales said.
Morales is an old-school coach. No-nonsense. Big on discipline and fundamentals. A throwback.
For instance, Morales doesn’t show players their batting averages. They know better than to ask to see them. Instead, he shows them their “quality at-bats,” which the coaches keep track of, and how effective they are moving people into scoring position.
“I appreciate that these guys have bought in that if they are to be successful, it will be because of all of them, together,” Morales said.
But as rigid as Morales is on the field, he’s just as empathetic and loyal off it.
Morales and his staff often relay stories from their days to the players. They are not just coaching the game. They are coaching life.
Everything—baseball, life, Milby High School—simply means more to the players because of Morales and Co.
“It helps in the sense that when we talk to them, they can relate,” Morales said. “Even me being older, growing up in the 80s, we’re from the same area, same neighborhoods, and they know when we speak, it comes from the heart and a true place. We can relate to their upbringings and struggles.”
These days, they are relating to their triumphs. Relishing their victories.
“It’s one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, one game at a time,” Gonzales said. “Understanding that we’ve worked hard and that it will all translate to the games. Remembering to have fun and pick each other up when things get rough, and staying focused and not letting up when things are good. We’re ready to give everything we got.”