Baseball warming to the start of Region XIV play Friday

By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun

The temperatures weren’t the only thing dropping in February.

“When the weather warms up the batting averages will go up,’’ said Navarro baseball Coach Whoa Dill, whose team has played well to start the season, but has lost some close games.

The Bulldogs are 10-6, but have lost three games in the final inning, including twice in extra innings. They could easily be 13-3 right now.

“We haven’t hit as well, but I know the hitting will come,’’ Dill said. “Our hitting hasn’t been very good but we’ve had some cold weather. The environment has been good for pitching but not for hitting. It’s early and the hitting will come. The weather has been the thing. We’ll be fine.’’

Catcher Jovan Hernandez leads the Bulldogs in hitting with a .400 batting average that includes three doubles, and Sam McDonnell is hitting .393 with six RBIs. J.P. Phillips is batting .348 and has driven in five runs, and Dill believes this is just the beginning for his hitters, who came up big n a 6-5 11-inning win against Grayson. McDonnell had a pinch-hit three-run double in the bottom of the ninth to knot the score at 5-5, and Luke Hoyle had the game-winning RBI single in the 11th.

When the hitting picks up, Navarro could be a powerhouse. The pitching has been that good.

Dill believes in pitching and defense, and that has been the strength of this team in the early stages, especially on the mound where the Bulldogs have pitched better than their record indicates.

Dill knows he lost a ton of talent from last year’s team that went to the JUCO World Series, but he likes what he has seen so far, and believes Navarro will be ready when the Bulldogs open their Region XIV season with a three-game series against Panola with a single game at 2 p.m. Friday and a doubleheader beginning at noon on Saturday.

“I feel comfortable going into the region,’’ said Dill, whose team has won four of the last five, including three games over the weekend. They split with Temple on Friday, but came back and swept No. 3 Grayson in a doubleheader on Saturday.

Dill should feel pretty comfortable with Jorge Flores on the mound.

Flores pitched the first no-hitter in recent memory for Navarro on Saturday, beating Grayson 1-0.

“It might be he first one in 25 years,’’ Dill said. “It’s the first one I can remember.’’

Flores has been tough to hit every time he takes the mound, and has allowed just eight hits in 24 innings. Flores, a lefty from McAllen who has a 2.20 ERA, might have given the Bulldogs the highlight of their pre-region season with his no-hitter , but he is only part of a pitching staff that has Dill excited about this year’s team.

“Flores has thrown real well for us and I’ve been impressed with the arms we have and the depth of our pitching,’’ Dill said. “He has a no-hitter and he gave up two hits against Blinn, but he’s 1-1 because he keeps coming out of games with no decisions.’’

Holden Grounds, a freshman from Corsicana High who was the All-Golden Circle Player of the Year and a Class 4A All-State pitcher a year ago, threw his best game of the young season on Friday, tossing a two-hit shutout against Temple. Grounds is 3-1.

J.D. Hammer, who returned this season as the ace of the staff, has had some tough luck on the mound. He’s 1-1 but he has an ERA of 1.02. He has struck out 19 batters while walking just seven and is a big reason the staff has a team ERA of 2.24.

Clay Brast, a sophomore, is 2-0 with an 0.70 ERA and has already struck out 15 batters and relievers Remey Reed, a freshman from Frisco, and Heath Donica, a Corsicana High product who has two saves, both have 0.00 ERAs. Reed is 2-0 and has 13 strikeouts and three walks over 11 innings of work. Keenan Wingfield is 1-1 with a save and has a 3.90 ERA in relief.

“The pitching has been there,’’ said Dill, whose staff has put up some impressive numbers. The Bulldog pitchers have struck out 105 batters in 126 innings while walking only 50, and their team ERA of 2.24 is better than anyone in the region. “And our infield defense has been really good,’’ Dill said. “Pitching and defense has carried us through.’’