WACO — Adjacent to trophy cases stock full of hardware in the foyer of Bullard Brook Hill’s posh Kyle Lake Athletic Center sits a cannon. Perhaps more than any prize in the cabinet, the large piece of artillery symbolizes the 2012 Guard baseball team.
They’ve got firepower — and plenty of it.
Facing all comers this year, Brook Hill has racked up a 26-3 record, taking the scalps of much larger schools such as Longview, Nacogdoches, Central Heights and Henderson (twice).
While the Guard are led by Texas A&M signees JB Moss and A.J. Minter, it’s the team’s depth — the lineup is strong 1 through 9 and the pitching staff goes five deep — that makes them the prohibitive favorite to repeat their TAPPS 3A championship.
But more than defending its title, Brook Hill wants to prove its one of the best in the state.
“We didn’t want to be No. 1 in just TAPPS, we wanted to be No. 1 in the state of Texas,” Minter said. “We wanted to show people that we can compete.”
The Guard begin play in the TAPPS 3A state semifinals today at 10:30 a.m. against The Woodlands Christian Academy at Waco ISD’s Veterans Field No. 2.
The winner advances to play either Amarillo San Jacinto or Austin St. Dominic Savio in the final Friday at 10:30 a.m. at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Red Murff Field in Belton.
Moss is the team’s offensive spark, batting leadoff. A senior shortstop who will play center field for the Aggies, Moss has scored 58 runs with a .585 on-base percentage and a team-high five home runs.
Minter, with a cannon of his own on his left shoulder, leads the pitching staff with 104 strikeouts in 51 1-3 innings, while walking 16. Minter also has five homers while batting .452 with 42 RBIs.
But it doesn’t stop there for Brook Hill.
? Junior catcher Kendall Kerns leads the team with a .548 average out of the clean-up spot.
? Senior second baseman Travis Pirtle has a team-high 43 RBIs, including a 10-game RBI streak.
? Junior Drew Robertson sports a miniscule 0.47 ERA to go with his pristine 7-0 record.
? Junior pitcher Quintin Pile (6-1) is allowing batters to hit just .144 against him.
? No. 9 hitter Michael Greening, a junior center fielder, is batting .377.
All together, the Guard have a .399 team batting average, a 1.75 staff ERA and have outscored opponents by an average of 10.9-1.5 per game. At one point in the season, Brook Hill tossed four straight no-hitters.
“We knew we were very talented, we had a chance to win it all,” Kerns said. “We just knew that if we were going to lose, we were going to beat ourselves.”
As defending state champs with two Division I signees, Brook Hill knew it had a target on its back.
“Knowing that you can win it with the team that you had last year and everyone coming back is a confidence booster, but there is an issue with not getting complacent in practice every day,” Moss said. “I think we’ve done that; we’ve stayed away from the complacency.”
Much of that has been due to the schedule coach Terry Pirtle put together, which included the aforementioned schools in addition to the three schools Brook Hill lost to: TAPPS 1-5A champ Trinity Christian-Addison, UIL Class 4As Texas High and Pine Tree.
“It was great because our district isn’t as strong as it needs to be and it kind of gets us in a competitive atmosphere for playoffs,” Kerns said. “It proves how talented we are and how much work we put in to this offseason.”
The Pine Tree loss was an important game for the Guard. Travis Pirtle made his season debut after breaking his leg in a Nov. 11 playoff football game. After going to Pine Tree as a freshman, he was determined to play against his former classmates and battled through six weeks of rehab to return to the field.
“The first couple of weeks was really hard,” he said. “I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to do everything the same again. I still have limited range of motion.”
Travis Pirtle was at 50 percent that game and has grown stronger with each week.
“I’m just proud that the Lord has let him work his way back and gotten back quickly,” his dad and coach Terry Pirtle said. “It’s a tribute to him and his work ethic to get back quickly and it’s another tribute to him that he’s worked hard and is really hitting the baseball this year.”
Additionally, the loss to the Pirates showed the Guard they were mortal, even if Minter, first baseman Garrett Moore and Greening didn’t play.
“It was a game we let slip away, but it was kind of a turning tide for us knowing that we are vulnerable and we can be beat at any time,” Terry Pirtle said.
In district play, however, the Guard were untouchable. They run-ruled their opponent in seven of their eight games, including four games in which they scored 27 or more runs.
“It’s real miserable for us because we have a lot of competitive guys on our team and they love the challenge,” Moss said.
Regardless of the blowouts, the Guard kept their focus.
“They policed themselves in that matter,” Terry Pirtle said. “Everyone gets along really well. They keep each other real humble.”
Brook Hill will throw Minter (7-1) in today’s semifinal after he started the final the last two years.
“We have some quality kids that can finish on the championship game if we make it that far so I feel really good about that too,” Terry Pirtle said.
The move is to match up against Warriors starter Zach Heard, who reaches the upper-80s with his fastball and has signed with Cisco College, Terry Pirtle said. Moss said the team gets excited to face a good pitcher.
“We haven’t seen (upper-80s) as much as I would like, but I know that’s what we’re facing (today),” Terry Pirtle said. “And if we don’t make an adjustment it will be the last pitcher we see this year.”
But with the arms at their disposal, the Guard expect to march on to the final.