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This softball season was supposed to be something of a reload for Santa Fe.
What a transition it’s been.
With only two seniors and high-caliber, but raw, talent, the Indians are in the regional final for the first time since 2014. Third-year coach Christina Jaques and a core of juniors in Sidne Peters (Washington commit), Makenna Mitchell (Texas Tech commit), and Brooklyn Spencer, and seniors Reagan Smith and Ashley Nickerson, have expedited what should have been a steep learning curve.
“They’re dedicated. They work hard,” Jaques said of her girls. “We went into this year feeling like our backs were against the wall. We had a chip on our shoulder to prove, hey, why not us? It’s been a process of showing these younger girls the ropes, learning to work together.”
The Indians graduated eight seniors from last year’s regional quarterfinalist, which was a disappointing end to a season with high hopes.
This season, players made a more concerted to give their all on every play, intent on not leaving games up to plays that might or might not be made. With so many new players around that veteran core, faith, trust and belief have been works in progress throughout the year.
Jaques stressed game-like simulations during practices. They are tougher and more demanding, so much so that now the game comes easier to players.
“Patience has been a huge deal,” Jaques said. “We know we’re going to play really young at times. We know we’re going to have some green areas. But as a coach, we have to make sure the girls grow off that. Each practice is figuring out where we need the most work in, and sometimes it means going back to something you’ve already addressed.”
Just like players had to go back to the basics, the coaches had to as well, challenging themselves to put players in better positions to succeed.
Every returner from last season, aside from the pitchers, is playing a different position than they were last year.
“We were going to have to coach our butts off and think in ways we hadn’t before,” Jaques said. “It was about our core girls and building around that.”
Still, despite all the newness and rebuilding, Jaques knew the team could do something special this year.
A big reason why is Peters, who, in six playoff games, has allowed one run on 11 hits while striking out 44 in 32 innings. She had a perfect game against Nederland in the bi-district round and back-to-back complete-game shutouts of Richmond Foster in the regional quarterfinals.
Santa Fe junior Sidne Peters.VYPE Media
“Her settling in each year and getting more games underneath her, I think the kid has grown tremendous in the mental aspect of it,” Jaques said. “The way she approaches teams now and the way she’s more confident. She’s dominating, and she’s letting her defense play for her. No matter how the game has flowed, she has that confidence in our defense that has really been a tremendous stride for her.”
Peters is also a threat at the plate. Against Kingwood Park in the regional semifinal, she went 3-for-3 with a home run, double and five RBIs.
“She’s our rock,” Jaques said. “She’s very, very special, and as time goes on, she dominates more and more as we see tougher opponents. She’s just so locked in.”
Around Peters is a selfless, gifted group of young ladies willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Spencer is a leader behind the plate. Nickerson plays everywhere; a first baseman last year, she is playing more of a utility role this year, depending on whatever Jaques needs.
The pitching staff is one of the best in the Greater Houston area in Peters, Smith and Jaden Cooper. Sophomore Mea Slayton has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in centerfield. Mitchell is a sparkplug of energy at shortstop. Freshman outfielder Kaitlyn Torres has been a boon.
“Whatever has been expected for our team and what we’ve needed, our girls have given,” Jaques said. “It’s been about what’s best for our team, and that’s been a big part of our success. We’re going to get everyone’s ‘A’ game. Our kids know we have to be tough. We have to let the little things go, and as long as we’re growing, we’re going to find out way.”
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.”
The Greater Houston area is loaded with elite talent in every sport. Welcome to the VYPE Playmakers, powered by UTMB Health, where we highlight five student-athletes making a difference on the field or track.
Pearland senior Logan Scott.Courtesy of Logan Scott social media
>> Logan Scott, Pearland, baseball
Scott drove in two runs for the Oilers in their 6-2 Class 6A regional quarterfinal win over Clear Creek last weekend to advance Pearland to the regional semis. The senior infielder has been steady for the Oilers all season, hitting .264 with 23 RBIs. He is dynamic with the glove, with only five errors in 68 chances in the field. Scott has turned seven double plays this season and boasts a .926 fielding percentage.
Friendswood junior Collin Goolsby.Courtesy of Collin Goolsby social media
>> Collin Goolsby, Friendswood, baseball
Goolsby came up clutch in helping the Mustangs sweep Crosby in their Class 5A regional quarterfinals last weekend. In the decisive 4-1 Game 2 win, Goolsby went 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs to pace Friendswood. The night before, Goolsby was even more electric at the plate in a 12-0 Game 1 win, going 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs. The junior is a Houston Baptist University commit.
Friendswood sophomore Baileigh Burtis.Courtesy of Baileigh Burtis social media
>> Baileigh Burtis, Friendswood, softball
Burtis had an outstanding sophomore campaign, helping lead the Mustangs all the way to the regional semifinals before falling to No. 1 state-ranked Lake Creek last week. Burtis hit .413 with 32 RBIs and three home runs. She led the team in hits with 52 and had a .456 on-base percentage. Burtis and Friendswood will be a premier threat once again in Region III-5A next season. The Mustangs only graduate two seniors.
Clear Springs junior Anna SolesVYPE Media
>> Anna Soles, Clear Springs, softball
Soles was central to an impressive 2022 season for Clear Springs, which went 28-6, won the District 24-6A title and made it to the regional quarterfinals. Soles hit .417 with 29 RBIs and led the team in hits with 40. The junior had a .500 on-base percentage and as many walks as strikeouts (13). The Kansas commit was perhaps even more spectacular in the circle, going 7-2 with a 1.55 ERA and allowing 11 earned runs in 49 2/3 innings,
La Porte senior Naomi Green.Courtesy of Naomi Green social media
>> Naomi Green, La Porte, cross country/track and field
Green was a dominant force on the track and course in 2022, resulting in a scholarship to run for Sam Houston State University. In cross country last fall, Green finished second at the district championships and seventh at the regional championships to qualify for state. Her personal record in the 5000 meter run is 19:15.00. This spring, on the track, Green finished fifth in the 3200 meters run at the regional meet and 10th in the 1600 meter run at the regional meet. She has PR marks of 5:27.59 and 12:07.35 in the 1600 and 3200, respectively.
Our specialists recognize the importance of being able to maintain an active lifestyle and whether you’re looking to address a joint injury, receive prompt treatment for a concussion, or simply improve your overall athletic performance, UTMB Health Orthopedics Sports Medicine is here to help.
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