By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 15, 2017) — With seven regulars including two all-state selections returning from a 2017 team that reached the regional semifinals, Stephenville is ranked No. 19 in the 2018 Conference 4A preseason poll conducted by the Texas High School Basevall Coaches Association.
Easton Jones and Cody Storrs are each back after being named all-state by theTHSBCA, Jones as a pitcher who is also a designated hitter and Storrs as a utility player in the outfield and at catcher who will move this season to infield and catcher. Each are listed by the association as top players to watch in Region I.
Jones was District 8-4A Pitcher of the Year with a 9-4 record and 89 strikeouts. He also sported a .316 batting average with 11 RBI and had the only home run Stephenville drove out of a park lasts season. Storrs hit near .400 and is one of the most versatile players around as a fielder.
The Yellow Jackets also return fist-team all-district infielder Derek Gifford, a short stop entering his junior season, and second-team designated hitter Trevor Easter, who will also play catcher and cold earn time in the infield, too.
Stephenville is guided by third-year head coach Justin Swenson after improving 6.5 games and from .500 to .676 in win percentage from his first to second season. The Jackets were 16-15-1 in 2016 and 2-39-2 in 2017.
Even with a slew of talent returning, there area question marks, none larger than at pitcher. A second starter is needed behind Jones, who as perceived along with Caleb Gibbons as the 1A and 1B options before Gibbons graduated last year.
Caleb Smith, Mason Castleberry, Zane Smith, Kade Averhoff and Luis Luna should all see time on the mound, Gifford could also help eat up some tournament innings, Swenson says. Averhoff and Castleberry also play in the outfield, where they are joined by Gage Graham and Chase Carrillo. Infielders with Gifford include Clay Krause and Storrs. There is competition at first and second base.
Practice begins January 26 and the Jackets open the season on Feb. 22. Once district play begins, the 8-4A race should be an exciting one with three teams ranked in the top 20. Besides Stephenville, Godley is ranked No. 2 and Midlothian Heritage is No. 14.
The Yellow Jackets were fourth behind those teams last season, and the district produced three of the four regional semifinalists with Godley eliminating Stephenville before losing out to eventual state champ Abilene Wylie in the regional final. Wylie beat Heritage in the regional semifinals and the Bulldogs rolled on to a second straight state title.