Written by Corbett Smith
Baseball towns? Handful of schools south of I-20 having playoff success
MANSFIELD — With country music blaring through the public address system, Mansfield Legacy’s baseball team briskly went through some hitting drills during its Tuesday practice — as relaxed as it could be.
For the second straight season, Legacy has made it three rounds deep in the UIL playoffs — and confidence is high.
“These kids kind of expect it now,” coach David Walden said of his team’s playoff run.
While other parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area might be under a brighter spotlight, baseball programs near and south of Interstate 20 have found consistent success in May and June.
In recent seasons, Kennedale won the 2011 Class 3A title, Arlington Martin made back-to-back trips to state and Cleburne made the 2012 4A finals.
This season, five area schools south of I-20 are still alive in the regional quarterfinals: Mansfield in 5A, Mansfield Legacy, Red Oak and Cleburne in 4A, and Ferris in 3A.
“There’s a lot of really good athletes here … in all the sports,” Walden said. “Baseball’s not anything different.”
For the two teams from Mansfield ISD, the recent playoff runs have been driven by hard work and a good baseball culture.
Walden and Legacy senior pitchers Cole Hearrean and Blake Wilson all said that Mansfield was “a baseball town.”
“I’ve got friends at all the other schools [who] love the sport just like we do,” Wilson said. “It’s real competitive around here. We like to play each other and beat each other. It’s just fun.”
Behind towering right-handed pitcher Noah Syndergaard — now among the top prospects in the Mets system — Legacy made a run to the 2010 regional semifinals in Walden’s first season at the school. Walden had previous stops at Canyon Randall and Weatherford.
“We had good teams at Weatherford, but Mansfield — they’d give us all the trouble we could stand,” Walden said. “I knew there were good baseball players out here.”
This year’s team has surprised him at every step. Hearrean and Wilson went from role players to bona fide aces (both are 7-1 with sub-2.00 ERAs). Leadoff hitter Marcus Perez didn’t get at-bats last season, yet is leading the team this year with a .487 batting average.
“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve been successful,” Hearrean said. “We do as much as we can to meet those expectations.”
For Class 5A Mansfield, its current playoff journey is the team’s longest since 2005 — when it lost in the regional final to Lubbock Monterey. Starting Thursday, Mansfield (27-5) plays Flower Mound (26-10) in a three-game series, a rematch of a 2012 area-round matchup won by Flower Mound.
“Everyone’s starting to notice how good we are doing,” senior pitcher Kyle Laberge said.
Behind pitchers Reid Petty (a UT-Arlington signee) and Laberge, Mansfield hasn’t lost in nearly two months; coach Gary Vaughan credited his team’s doggedness.
“We’re here for a reason,” Vaughan said. “We’ve learned how to play in some tight ball games. We’ve had to use all our personnel to get to this point. We don’t have a lot of guys who are going off on the next level. A lot of our seniors aren’t. But our chemistry — they back each other up and play for each other and do whatever they can to help the team. The chemistry’s just been unbelievable.”