The Burnet High School baseball team’s motivation for the 2023 season is how the Bulldogs’ 2022 season ended in a bi-district series loss to LaGrange.
“I think they got a taste of it last year as a team getting in the playoffs,” head coach Russell Houston said. “They didn’t like how it ended. You give up four runs in three games and your season is over because you don’t hit. They came back a little hungrier. They like the feel of the playoffs.”
Fans can see the Bulldogs during the Hill Country Classic, which they are co-hosting with Llano. Burnet, which plays all of its games at Bulldog Diamonds on its campus, hosts Fredericksburg at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 2, Elgin at 3:30 p.m. and Johnson City at 5:45 p.m., both on Friday, March 3, and Pleasanton at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 4.
Nine lettermen return including Moses Deluna, Jackson Crawford and Trenton Park, and six newcomers round out the roster, and Houston likes plenty about this team.
“The team is very competitive,” Houston said. “They don’t like to lose. They are hard working and extremely motivated. I think if they could skip the preseason all together (and go directly to District 24-4A play), they would.”
Top of the list of priorities is the pitching staff and finding the Tuesday and Friday starters. Houston has several options: Jesse Bachmayer, Dash Denton, Braden Ellett-Clark, Cooper Faris, Will Johnson, Kurt Kassner, Kade Shaw, Gibby Valdez and Matthew Valdez.
“You compare it to replacing a quarterback,” Houston said. “It takes awhile for that kid to be the face of the program and to be the man. Everything starts on the mound. If you can throw strikes and compete, it allows everyone else to play defense. The only thing you can’t defend is a walk. When you make plays and make outs, life is easier.”
The challenge for most pitchers is the mentality of the position, the coach said.
“They think they have to be perfect on the mound,” he said. “Perfection on the mound is you want to compete and throw strikes. So what if (the opponent) gets a run. Those things are going to happen. Go try to be great, go make them swing the ball. I believe the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a round ball with a round bat.”
He also believes the pitching rotation will reveal itself as the Bulldogs continue playing.
“It’s not about you as an individual,” the coach said. “As a young kid, they want instant success and gratification. We’re building that concept of it doesn’t matter who gets the last out as long as the Burnet Bulldogs win. We’ll be a lot better.”
District play begins Tuesday, March 14, with a road game at Lampasas at 7 p.m. The district — which includes Georgetown Gateway, Jarrell, Lago Vista and Marble Falls — will play each other three times.
“There’s never going to be a tie at the end of the year,” Houston said. “Somebody will have a head-to-head win at 2-1. And it’s a lot easier to schedule. You don’t have to go find seven different games to go play.”
Lago Vista, which will be making its Class 4A debut, lost in the second round of the playoffs last year and returns several players this season.
“It’s wide open as to who’s going to win it,” Houston said of the district race. “They’re all going to be pretty good. It’ll depend on who’s throwing strikes that night. If we throw strikes and go compete, we’ll have a chance.”
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