Head coach: Joey Hector, 6th year
2017 record: 8-15-3 / 1-9 District 11-4A
District mates: Melissa, Bonham, Princeton, Aubrey, Celina
Key players lost to graduation: Koy Harris, Lawrence Goade
Key returning players: Colton Brown, Zach Howard, Dylan Burr, Derek Kirshner, Jacob Williams
Key newcomers: Jacob Odom, Rawley Hector, Tate Stroup, Jayden Adams
Season-opener: Monday, Feb. 19, versus Farmersville
District-opener: Tuesday, March 20, versus Aubrey
ANNA — In assessing last season’s disappointing won-loss record, Anna head coach Joey Hector points to two things: pitching and offense. “I thought going into last year we’d do a better job than we did,” he says. “We struggled on the mound some. Looking back, I think it was more to do with our preseason throwing program than anything else. I don’t think we did a very good job last off-season at getting that executed. Throughout the year, it was pretty evident we were lacking on the mound — and offensively. We’d lost a lot from the year before, so I thought the kids did a good job of trying to maintain the level we were at — not taking too many steps backwards. I thought, outside of two district ball games, we competed pretty well.
“The younger kids did a good job of trying to maintain the grind and keep improving. … It was a disappointing season record-wise, but I don’t think it was the season as much as it was our preparation going into the season that hurt us.”
The Coyotes return two All-District picks from a year ago, junior pitcher Zach Howard and senior infielder Colton Brown. Howard hurled 44 innings last season for a 3.00 ERA and was the team’s leading hitter, posting a .324 average with 17 RBIs. Brown plated 16 runs and led the team in assists.
Anchoring Anna’s infield will be Brown at second and Howard at first when he’s not pitching. Jacob Odom, a move-in from Prosper, should contend for the starting catcher role and also get a look as a pitcher. “He’ll be a big help to us,” Hector says. “Really everything else is wide open.”
Besides Howard on the mound, the Coyotes return Brown, Dylan Burr and Derek Kirshner. “None are going to be overpowering,” Hector says, “but they’re all going to throw strikes.” Promising freshmen hurlers Tate Stroup, Rawley Hector and Jayden Adams also join the fold.
Speaking of top freshmen, Hector’s son Rawley is already a highly-recruited collegiate prospect. “I hope he does a good job,” Hector says, “because if not it could be a long ride home. We’re excited about getting him. He’s been around the team for six years. He’s new to the team, but he’s really not. He’s been at every practice since I’ve been here. The kids, they respond real well to him and he gets along real well with all of them. … Rawley will have some impact on the varsity.”
“We’re way ahead of last year’s staff,” Hector says. “This will be the best pitching staff I’ve had since I’ve been here, as far as 1 through 5. We’ll have three of what I consider really quality arms, then we’ll have two or three that are good quality arms that’ll role-play for us once district gets here. Things can change, but we feel like our top-three returning pitchers [Howard, Brown, and Burr] are as good as anybody’s top-three pitchers on paper. There’s a whole lot more that goes into than that. But on paper, we’re going to be OK on the mound.”
In the outfield, Hector welcomes back a solid group, including Jacob Williams, Mason Simmons, Gabe Sardukian, Fabian Balderas and Kirshner.
“No doubt, our pitching staff will be a strength,” Hector says. “And, really, we’ll be pretty solid on the infield, even with our young kids. We’re lacking a little bit in the speed department which, in turn, could hurt our pitching staff because our range isn’t what it needs to be at this level. We’ll do some things well, we’ll do some things not so well, but we’re working to continue to keep getting better.”
As for other potential challenges, Hector says, “We’re going to struggle offensively and, really, we’re going to struggle with our youth. It’s a big difference when you’ve got freshmen playing 18-year-old kids, as opposed to people their own age. It’s a different game. And in this district you’ve got some really talented teams and you’ve got some really talented coaches that do a good job. They’ll expose us in some areas early, but we’re hoping that by the end we’ll all get on the same page and be competitive.”
Hector does allow, though, “We have a few guys that can swing it. We’re looking for big things from Howard, Hector and Simmons.”
Hector breaks down District 11-4A like this: “You’ve got your Melissa at the top. You’ve got Aubrey, you’ve got Princeton, you’ve got Bonham. Those guys are always powerhouses. Then you’ve got us and Celina — last year, we were both down. But I know Celina’s got some very talented kids coming up that will probably go in there and make an impact pretty quickly. It’s just a really good district. There’s a lot of good arms in this district. You’ve got Tate [Whittington] down there in Melissa. He’s probably the best player in the Area.”