Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Unlike state-qualifying teams in early ’90s, this Arlington Martin group has no superstar
ARLINGTON — When Arlington Martin made it to the state tournament in 1990, it was led by future major league pitcher Todd Van Poppel. Martin’s state champion in 1993 featured outfielder Ben Grieve and pitcher Matt Blank, who both played in the majors.
So now that the Warriors are back in the state tournament for the first time in 19 years, who’s the superstar to lead them?
“We have Nick,” junior outfielder Matt Waller said of pitcher Nick Hendrix. “But he’s not really like a superstar.”
Waller means that in the best possible way. Hendrix, a senior who has signed with Duke, is a terrific pitcher. But Martin’s strength is in numbers.
“We don’t have a superstar that we have to rely on,” Martin coach Curt Culbertson said. “When one of the guys is down, the other guys are picking him up.”
That depth helped Martin (36-5-1) earn its third state appearance. Martin plays Houston Cypress Ranch (30-8) at noon Friday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
No 4A or 5A team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area has won a state tournament game since Plano West won the 5A title in 2008.
But Martin, which is in the top 10 of several national rankings, has the kind of team to end the drought.
It starts with a loaded pitching staff that, in lieu of one big-name player, serves as the team’s superstar.
Hendrix (1.13 ERA), Turner Larkins (1.25 ERA) and Collin Day (2.02) have all started and won playoff games. They’ve also been workhorses, combining for complete games 10 times in the playoffs.
Mike Hoffman (1.45) finished the other three games for Martin, which allowed only two runs per game in the playoffs.
“We’re really confident in our pitchers,” said right fielder Josh Watson. “They’ve gone out there and [have] proven something this year, and we’re right there behind them.”
The offense also has punch with guys such as Waller, who is hitting .398 and leads the team with 21 stolen bases. Drew Dowdy and Anthony Lyons are each hitting .377 and Mitchell Peck has a .352 average and leads the team with 36 RBIs.
But a big reason for the team’s success doesn’t show up in the numbers.
“Team chemistry,” said second baseman Tyler Kendrick.
That intangible gets mentioned by many teams and its value is sometimes overstated. But Martin talked about it all season, and the players say togetherness helps the team. The Warriors have senior leaders such as Hendrix, Day and Peck and juniors such as Dowdy and Lyons. Larkins is a sophomore, and Martin’s leadoff hitter, Watson, is a freshman.
“We just have a weird mix of people who get along,” Waller said.
“Anybody on our team can step up and do the job,” added Larkins.
Now Martin, a program that has made the playoffs 18 of the 19 seasons since its state title, is two wins from a title. Last year was only the second time in those 18 playoff seasons that Martin lost in the first round.
“We’ve had this goal since we got knocked out in the first round. We said we’ve got to get there — we’ve got to be in the final four,” Waller said. “We really don’t have superstars, but we have confidence in everyone on this team.”
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