Usually a move to a new district is met with wonder and anticipation. It brings with it new teams, maybe some new rivalries and new possibilities.
But thanks to years and years of postseason clashes, Robert E. Lee’s response to its new district foes is more along the lines of, “You again.”
It begins with Rowlett. The Red Raiders and Eagles have faced off in the postseason four times in the past 10 years. Three of those series went three games. Lee has also matched up against Garland Sachse and Naaman Forest in recent playoff campaigns. Throw in longtime rival Rockwall into the mix and add returning playoff side Garland, and just on paper it puts six returning postseason teams fighting for four spots.
Reaching the playoffs hasn’t been a problem for the Red Raiders. David Howard, who is entering his third year as head coach after being a longtime assistant, understands the expectations as REL aims its 14th straight trip to the postseason.
“We really don’t talk about (continuing the streak). We’ve been really fortunate to have some great kids come through here and coach (Mike) Pirtle did a great job,” Howard said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get in the past couple years, but it’s not something we concentrate on. We really battle one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time and one game at a time.
“I know that sounds cliché, but that’s what we try to do.”
The Red Raiders were in danger of being kept out of the playoff party a year ago before reeling off five victories in their last seven district games. In the postseason, Lee and Rowlett split their first two games with the Eagles doing enough in the third to advance.
Despite beginning a season with many questions, the Red Raiders did it again to finish with a 15-13 record.
Howard hopes that team’s fight back and perseverance of a year ago will continue into this season as REL returns two of its starting three pitchers from a year ago and its top hitter.
Senior Daniel Bogue is a four-year varsity letterman who became REL’s ace last year. He finished with a 7-3 record and 2.45 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 45 innings. He was named all-district first team and All-East Texas second team.
“He is battle-tested and he understands (what it takes) and what is about to happen (as we go into this again),” Howard said about Bogue, who has already signed with Tarleton State. “He has a ton of varsity innings and having that experience (is so valuable).”
The other half of that pitching combination is senior Garrett Hudson, who garnered all-district honors last year at pitcher and as REL’s third baseman. Howard said Hudson will man the hot corner again for the Red Raiders when not on the mound.
“He played a big role for us last year,” Howard said. “(Hudson) is a big defensive guy and a big offensive guy and pitched some huge innings for us at the end of the year last year.”
The left side of the infield is already set thanks to junior Parker Bramlett back at shortstop after coming up from JV prior to district play last season and locking down his position to earn all-district accolades.
Junior outfielder and leadoff man Parker Bates was REL’s top offensive player last year, earning All-East Texas Newcomer of the Year honors and first-team all-district recognition following a season in which he batted .425 with 27 runs scored.
“What a season Bates had last year, and he’s a great kid and a hard worker so we hope he continues to progress,” Howard continued. “Parker Bramlett also started for us a sophomore last year and he plays very consistent on defense for us at shortstop and does a little bit of everything for us at the plate. He handles the bat well and runs the bases well; he’s real consistent with his effort and his performance.”
Junior Mark Schwartz was player thrust into the starting lineup a year ago. He had to because of an injury and gained valuable experience behind the plate. Howard said he and senior Travis Melton are in a competition to lock down the backstop this year.
“Right now it’s a fight for that starting position between those two,” Howard said.
At first base is another battle between three players, senior Henry Smith, junior Mitchell Nejame and senior Nick Goodwin.
“I am OK with all of them, I just don’t know who is going to win (the position),” Howard said. “One of those three I feel is going to be our DH too, even if they don’t play first for us.”
Vying to be REL’s second baseman are junior Colton Kerr and sophomore Kade Keener.
Howard said Smith may also play second base to give an opportunity to have his, Nejame and Goodwin’s bats in the lineup.
The only real question mark for Howard is who plays third base when Hudson is on the mound?
“It is something we are working on and that will be a problem for us to solve as we go through the season,” Howard said.
Bates moves from right field to center. Howard said his other two outfield positions are an open competition between Luke Hamilton (Jr.), Jakob Romines (Sr.), Mark Russell (Jr.), Stephen Macpherson (Sr.), Jacob Kuehn (Sr.) and Nick Williams (Sr.).
“We are just going to have to play it out and see who earns it,” Howard said.
The Red Raiders are solidified with their 1-2 pitching options, but Howard is quick to point out that REL has suffered in the past by not having a go-to third option on the mound, especially three-game playoff series.
“We really want one guy to fall into that role,” Howard said. “Not like a big league closer where he only needs to get three outs, but a guy who can come in and pitch the sixth and seventh. When we’ve been good we have that third guy,”
Howard said junior Jonathan McGown could be that third guy, or even move into the No. 2 pitching role with Hudson the late inning stopper. Howard said Bates could also be called in to fill the later innings.
Howard believes Lee’s schedule presents challenges and will be a good preparation for district.
After the Rose City Classic, Lee will compete at the Forney ISD Tournament against the likes of Hallsville, Forney, North Forney, Dallas Christian and other teams from the D/FW area.
REL then switches gears and goes to Waco to compete in the Waco Midway Tournament against A&M Consolidated, Midlothian, Midway and Bryant, Arkansas.
Howard said he is using the Midway tournament as the “dress rehearsal” for his team because two days after that event concludes, on Tuesday, March 17, District 11-6A begins with a home game against Garland Sachse.
“Our first week we have Sachse at home and then at Rowlett,” Howard said.
“It is what it is. Our motto this year is ‘So what.’ We have to play them, so we might was well play them at the beginning.
“I feel like it will be really, really competitive from start to finish, but I also feel like we should be right in the mix; right in the hunt with everyone else to win the district and get a playoff spot.”
Lee 2015 Baseball Schedule
Feb. 26-28 Rose City ClassicTBA
Mar. 5-7 Forney Tournament TBA
Mar. 12-14 Waco Midway Tournament TBA
Mar. 17 Garland Sachse*7 p.m.
Mar. 20 at Garland Rowlett*4:30 p.m.
Mar. 24 at Garland Lakeview Centennial*7 p.m.
Mar. 27 Garland*7 p.m.
Mar. 31 at North Garland*4:30 p.m.
April 2 Rockwall*7 p.m.
April 7 at Garland Naaman Forest*7 p.m.
April 10 at Garland Sachse*4:30 p.m.
April 14 Garland Rowlett*7 p.m.
April 17 Garland Lakeview Centennial*7 p.m.
April 21 at Garland*7 p.m.
April 24 North Garland*7 p.m.
April 28 at Rockwall*7 p.m.
May 1 Garland Naaman Forest*7 p.m.
* — District 11-6A game.
Note: All Lee home games will take place at Mike Carter Field