When he won a baseball district championship as a player, Brent Hall said he didn’t take the time to savor the moment. Now as the coach, he’s trying to make sure his players don’t make the same mistake.
Houston ended a long district drought Thursday when the Tigers rode the arm of right-hander Gus Durst and got a key two-out, rally-starting double from Nathan Trentham to beat Mansfield 10-3 in the Class 2 District 12 final. It was the first district title in 15 years for the program and only the sixth ever.
Hall, who was a senior player on Houston’s last district championship team, said he has talked about the historical significance of the victory to his team.
“I remember when I played, it went so fast that I didn’t get to enjoy it or remember as much as I would have liked to,” said Hall, who has 128 career victories in nine seasons with the Tigers. “I’ve really stressed to the kids to enjoy it and make some memories that they won’t forget.”
An opportunity for even more memories came Wednesday when Houston (15-6) traveled to Conway for a Class 2 sectional game. The Tigers have never won a game beyond districts.
From the beginning of the season, Hall believed he had a special group that was capable of bringing the district title back to Houston. Hall has coached most of the players since they were in middle school. During the winter, Hall rented a downtown building for the players to take batting practice. They met at 6 o’clock every morning.
It’s also an experienced group with five seniors – Durst, Trentham, Justin Stringer, Cory Hart and Travis Swearengin – and junior Kirk Pierce, who has started every game since his freshman season. Junior left fielder Devin Harper and sophomores Caleb Smith and David Weybright round out the starting lineup.
Hall said he has had talented teams before, but Houston never could advance in Class 3. When the program dropped down to Class 2, the Tigers were placed in a difficult district that included perennial state power Mansfield.
“With a combination of everyone else’s talent and us improving over the years, I just thought this was the year for us to break through,” Hall said. “We’re kind of like a big family. These seniors never complain about coming to the ballpark. They just love the game and are true baseball players.”
The celebrating has subsided since Thursday night as the Tigers began preparing for Conway, which had a sub .500 record before winning its district as the sixth seed. Although it won’t be easy on Conway’s home field, Hall believes his team has the chance to win the program’s first-ever sectional game.
If Houston wins, the Tigers could host their first quarterfinal game on Friday.
“This is a game we can win if we just take care of our own business,” Hall said. “If we just play the way we’re capable, I believe we’ll accomplish that feat and be able to celebrate it.”