Home | Sports | Baseball | ‘So are we’: Maypearl riding confidence, strong pitching to 3A state tourney
The Maypearl Panthers celebrate on the field at Cleburne High School after defeating West to advance to the 3A state tournament. (Courtesy Cade Flory Photography)

‘So are we’: Maypearl riding confidence, strong pitching to 3A state tourney

By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports

MAYPEARL — For some, the run by the Maypearl Panther baseball team to the Class 3A state tournament could be viewed as improbable. 

The Panthers were not ranked to begin the season, nor were they at the halfway mark. They were not picked to win the district crown and had never advanced past the third round of the 3A playoffs. 

Following a thrilling game-three victory against West in the 3A Region III championship, the state-bound Panthers continue to prove that what chatter comes from outside the locker room is of little concern. 

“Obviously, we didn’t know early that we were going to be this successful, but we knew we had a good team and a good shot in January,” said first-year head coach Jeremy Roberson, a 2016 Maypearl graduate. “It’s not as much of a surprise as some people think because we had the confidence of knowing we had a team that was capable of playing long into the summer. This is a confirmation that we were right and less of being shocked.”

After defeating rival Grandview (4-1) to win the outright District 17-3A championship on April 29, (30-8) Maypearl has won 10-of-its-12 postseason games. The run includes sweeps of Blooming Grove (bi-district) and Little River (regional quarterfinal). The Panthers also defeated Cameron Yoe and West to reach the state tournament.

The Panthers have leaned heavily on a bold plan to pitching and late-inning strategy, stellar defensive play, timely offense and the confidence exuded by their seniors to reach the 3A state tournament. 

“God gave us such great kids this year. I don’t have to explain a lot,” Roberson admitted. “There are times that I’ll tell them what I’m thinking and the things we are trying to do with our bullpen, and as soon as it’s said out loud, everything falls into place. They have trusted the process throughout the year.” 

The Maypearl Panthers after clinching their trip to the 3A state baseball tournament. (Courtesy Jerome Stewart)

NO-NO JINXING

Roberson had yet to witness a no-hitter prior to Thursday evening. Not when he played the beloved game or since he’s become a coach.

Then Tanner Terry (12-0, 1.22 ERA) toed the rubber in game one of the Panthers’ first-ever trip to the 3A regional championship. 

Terry struck out eight, scattered four walks and did not allow a hit over 7 almost indescribable innings. He also added a fourth-inning RBI to help fuel the 2-0 victory in a game that could easily be considered one of the most significant — to date — in the history of the Maypearl baseball program. 

That effort moved the Panthers one win from a trip to the state baseball tournament. 

“Just seeing one in person was really, really special,” said Roberson of the no-hitter. “And then to see it happen this late in the playoffs was ridiculous.”

Roberson recalled Terry carrying a no-hit bid late into a handful of outings — only to have a single flipped over the infield or Texas leaguer fall in short left field.

Tanner Terry, a senior, tossed a no-hitter Thursday against West in the 3A Region III championship. (Photo courtesy Dr. Jerome Stewart)

Terry has started 15 games this season with 78.1 IP. He’s had 7 outings of 2 hits or fewer across that span while averaging better than a strikeout per inning (7.6). He’s been an absolute ace in every way.

The coaching staff and Panthers at-large had also become accustomed to his near misses. They had learned the hard way how to jinx a no-no and, more importantly, what not to repeat in the future.

Roberson was quick to confess as much, too. He also quickly admitted that he knew something special was brewing fairly early on in the regional championship opener. It wasn’t until the seventh inning, however, that he considered his first peek at the scorebook.

“Our coaching staff is pretty superstitious as it is, so we wouldn’t ever say anything,” Roberson laughed. “I had been keeping it on my radar. […] We had a couple of plays that I thought [West] had a chance for a hit, but our defense kept it up and played well behind him.

“Then we got into the top of the seventh [inning], I walked over to our manager, who was keeping stats on GameChanger but decided against it.”

The skipper continued, “Then we got the first out and then the second, so I had to look because, if they had gotten a hit, I couldn’t walk out there celebrating it.”

As it played out, Roberson reluctantly trekked from his bucket in the corner of the dugout, glanced and saw the confirmation he needed — a big ol’ zero in the hit column.

Terry was through 6.2 IP. The Trojans had zero (0) hits and Roberson held back his initial smile and comment. He was among the first to celebrate with Terry just a few paces off the mound after the final out was recorded.

THE BUS RIDE TO MOMENTUM

Spoiler alert: Surely by now you know Maypearl fell to Kade Bing and West in game two of the best-of-three series, 4-1. If not, here’s the recap. 

Bing, a 6-foot-1 left-handed senior, struck out 13 Panthers and scattered three hits with one walk over his seven-inning complete-game win. He is still recovering from Tommy John surgery on March 2, 2022. Cord Rager (4-1, 1.75 ERA) took the loss in game two for the Panthers. 

“Don’t worry, we got this. We are going to show up tomorrow and we are going to get the win,” said a confident Cole Rager to his head coach just before walking onto the ol’ not-so-yellow dog in the Cleburne High School parking lot. 

Roberson cracked ever so slightly as he recalled the in-passing conversation. That same Rager confidence carried down the Panther lineup and bench, too — and that’s where the momentum changed.

“Honestly, the thing that changed our momentum and mindset was just the bus ride home,” Roberson explained. “It’d be nice to be able to credit a pop shot for a homer or some speech, but honestly, it was the fellowship on the bus ride home.

“[…] We were frustrated at the end of the game and kicking ourselves, for sure. We get onto the bus, the music comes on, and the guys are hyping each other up and talking about what to fix before [Saturday]. They were having fun with each other and loving on each other. We get off the bus and the kids were already saying, ‘We got this. It’s going to be us.’ So we showed up confident and knowing it was going to go our way.”

Roberson and the Panthers meet on the field at Cleburne High School. (Courtesy Jerome Stewart)
****

PITCHING WITH A PLAN

Roberson sat down several of the Panthers’ prospective arms in late September to explain a new approach to the rotation and bullpen and prepare some of the kids for new roles. 

“We kind of had a lot of starters [in 2022] and were pitching by committee late in games,” Roberson explained. “In 3A, you don’t have the luxury of having 6 or 7 pitchers in the ‘pen. But we knew coming into this season that we had the arms to do it and have a strong ‘pen.”

First and foremost, the coaching staff wanted to nail down a closer — someone who could be trusted when the Panthers needed him most. 

“I eventually sat down Baley [Ray], who is one of those big-time senior leaders on our team,” Roberson recalled, “and told him that he’d be moving into the role of closer this year.” 

Ray and Terry were No. 1 and 2 on the Panther staff in 2022. Ray moved into a new role as the Panthers’ designated closer this season. He explained the coaching staff was overly confident in Terry as the team’s ace and Ray as the closer.

As one could imagine, having your role changed in a way that could be seen as minimizing is a tough pill to swallow — especially for a 17- or 18-year-old athlete with collegiate baseball aspirations. 

That wasn’t Ray, though. He embraced and led, as only a senior with much larger and true team goals could do. Roberson credits Ray’s ability to fill up the strike zone with a plus-fastball and controllable curveball as key factors in the decision.

“We had lefties in spades,” recalled Roberson after observing the Panthers’ arm talent in early 2023. It then became abundantly clear that two left-handed sophomore arms needed to be showcased.

Billy Teague (6-1, 2.36 ERA) has recorded 60 strikeouts to 27 walks over his nine starts and 10 appearances (50.1 IP) for the Panthers. The 6-foot-4 Cord Rager (4-1, 1.75 ERA) has appeared in 11 games (8 starts), striking out 40 and walking 27 over 24.0 IP.

“Cord is a freak of nature and Billy is a hitman on the mound,” Roberson complimented. “Both of those guys have a ton of potential and, even as sophomores, they are bulldogs out there.” 

The strategy has obviously worked. Maypearl finished 9-1 in District 17-3A. They’ve also ridden it throughout the state playoffs, highlighted by three-game series victories against Cameron Yoe and West. 

“We just hit it hard all year that we have to trust the process, trust the process, trust the process,” Roberson added. “We just had to prove it.” 

****

PROOF IS IN THE PANTHERS

By now, we are aware that the Panthers rode a Terry no-hitter to a game 1 victory against West in the 3A Region III championship. They then fell in game two behind a stellar Kade Bing pitching performance.

The unfolding set the stage for Teague to take the mound in the rubber game of the series. Ray, the Panthers’ closer, also had 51 pitches left before hitting the UIL-mandated pitch count following his game-two outing.

Game three would ultimately put Roberson and the coaching staff’s September pitching plan to its final and most stringent test.

If the coaching staff was correct in their planning, there’d be no need to repeat it in Round Rock, as the state tournament is two single-game winner-takes-all contests.

It’s also no secret that most game threes in the high school baseball playoffs often end in 11-7 or 12-8 scores. A team is absolutely blessed to have a third arm to roll out with confidence, especially at the 3A level.

“Tanner comes out there and throws a gem [in game 1], which made everything else a lot easier,” Roberson laughed. “But our strategy had already been battle-tested, so we knew going into game three that we still had our No. 2 and closer in our pocket.

“[…] Billy [Teague] wasn’t some second baseman coming in to see if he can throw enough strikes and we outhit them. He’s a legit arm from the left side that throws heat with everything moving, and he can tell you where it’s going.”

Teague set the tone early, filling up the strike zone and facing just one over the minimum through 4 no-hit innings. He sat down the West side in order in the bottom of the first, third and fourth innings, helped by catcher Tyson Brooks gunning down a would-be base stealer for out No. 2. 

Roberson stated the Panthers continued to build confidence throughout game three by simply battling inside the batter’s box.

Ray supplied the first offensive spark for the Panthers when he launched a deep drive over the right-field fence to lead off the top of the third inning. 

“Baley hitting that home run was just proof that things were going to go our way,” Roberson said.

The home run was Ray’s third of the season. He also has a team-best 34 runs scored to go with 22 RBIs and a .386 batting average, both second only to Cord Rager (27 RBIs, .393 AVG)

Maypearl added a second run in the top of the fifth when Terry walked on five pitches with two outs and the bases loaded. 

Teague, Ray and Rager had previously walked in the inning to fill the bases full of Panthers.

Unfortunately, Teague then ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth.

After allowing a lead-off single to right field, Teague sandwiched two hit-batters around a flyout and run-scoring fielder’s choice to leave runners on the corners with two outs. Add in a couple of previously thrown passed balls and it was time for Roberson to pull his closer, Ray, in from shortstop to lock the win down.

Teague exited after striking out four, walking one (3 HBP) and allowing just one earned run on one hit over 4.2 IP. He threw 41 of his 67 pitches for strikes.

Ray quickly retired the West side with a weak groundball to Cole Rager at short for an easy flip to Morgan Brooks at second to keep the Maypearl lead at 2-1. 

Ray worked around a two-out Bing single in the bottom of the sixth inning. The senior closer then induced a weak groundball to start the bottom of the seventh, only to allow a two-strike single to Tyler Ray.

Ray quickly worked Jacob Boggs into a 2-2 count as Tyler Ray increased his lead at first base. 

Boggs whiffed at the fifth offering of his at-bat just as T. Ray broke to second. Brooks threw a dart on the bag and the series was over. 

Maypearl defeated West, 2-1, in game three to advance to the 3A state tournament for the first time in program history.

“Honestly, that was a great call. I know it didn’t work out for coach [Phillip] Berndsen, but he knew exactly where they were at as a team, and that was the right call,” Roberson said.

Roberson explained West had collected three hits all game and had mustered just 3 hits on Ray over 4.2 IP in games two and three. The skipper applauded the gamble to put a runner in scoring position.

Roberson (left) celebrates with the Panthers following the state-clinching victory (Courtesy Jerome Stewart).

“It just didn’t work out for them. Now, I’m glad [coach Berndsen] called that because it got us to the state tournament, but you have to give credit where credit is due — that was a good call,” Roberson added. “But, the only reason that was a good call was because Billy and Baley had been mowing their hitters down all game.”

Baley Ray improved to a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities on the season after closing out the 2-1 game three against West to send the Panthers to Round Rock. 

“He has that ability to put his nose in the dirt and outlast you,” he added. “He’s going to compete, no matter the situation. He just isn’t going to fold.”

As for that September strategy? It worked — flawlessly

BOYD AND BEYOND

The Panthers now face a familiar foe in (38-5) Boyd in the 3A state semifinals. The first pitch from Dell Diamond in Round Rock is slated for 9 a.m. Friday, June 9. 

The state tournament appearance will mark the first in Class 3A for either program and the first-ever for the Yellowjackets. Maypearl last appeared in the state tournament in Class 2A in 2005. Those Panthers fell to Holliday, 3-1, and finished the season 28-9. 

Maypearl previously defeated Boyd, 4-3, in the Stephenville tournament on March 4. The Panthers dropped three-of-their-five games in that tournament (Godley, Waxahachie Life and Springtown). They’ve lost just five times since.

“Tournament ball is tournament ball; it’s not district or playoff ball,” Roberson explained. “Teams are trying out new lineups and positions, so it’s not a true reflection of what that team is or will be. Now, that being said, we do know the caliber of team that they are. They are a really talented team and solid. But so are we.”

Boyd won 32 consecutive games following that tournament loss to Maypearl. The winning streak came to an end in game two against Gunter in the 3A regional championship. The Yellowjackets rebounded for a 9-0 series-clinching win. 

“Those boys can go play some ball,” said Roberson, pointing to Braden McIntire and Eric Rogers as the two hot hands in the rotation and at the plate. “They are good defensively and good offensively.” 

The community send-off will be at 3 p.m. Thursday, with the unofficial parade route starting at the high school and turning right up FM 66 through the heart of town. The Panthers will also practice on their home field one last time Thursday morning. Roberson was intentional in his thought to allow the now-graduated seniors one final practice on their home field. 

“Baseball is played the same at 9 a.m. as it is at 7 p.m.,” laughed a confident Roberson. The Panthers might stop in Belton for a team meal on the way. However, if the team has its way, they’ll all be in bed before the sun sets and up before it rises.

“It was funny, and it just shows how seriously the guys are taking this trip, but we’ve already shared the ‘lights out time’ and had a couple guys say, ‘Roby, we have to go to be way earlier than that. We have a game in the morning.’ And that’s just rare with teenagers, but that’s how serious they are about being this deep into the playoffs.”

“[…] We are going to respect the fact that any team in Texas can come put it on us,” Roberson added. “But we also aren’t going to take the field on our heels. We are going to attack. I’m going to be betting on us and throwing everything I can. No matter what we do, we are going to put our team first. We know these teams are going to be solid, but so are we, and that is our mindset.”

The Maypearl Panthers celebrate on the field at Cleburne High School after defeating West to advance to the 3A state tournament. (Courtesy Cade Flory Photography)

____

Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

tsmith@elliscosports.com

About Travis M. Smith

Travis M. Smith is the owner and content director of Ellis County Sports and has over a decade of award-winning sports coverage. He most recently served as the digital sports director for KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM. He is the former managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, Midlothian Mirror and Glen Rose Reporter.

Check Also

Midlothian Heritage, Red Oak climb AP football rankings; DCTF predicts all week 6 Ellis County football games

By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports LEWISVILLE — Red Oak and Midlothian Heritage …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *