By JUSTIN RAINS
In his first three seasons on the diamond for Cayuga, Chantz Holland was a reliable, solid player.
He always occupied a second or third spot in the pitching rotation, played a solid infield and was serviceable at the plate.
In 2013, things had to change. No longer would he be a No. 2 or No. 3, he was a No. 1. No longer were there the big bats which had surrounded him in the lineup his first three seasons.
How did Holland respond? He’d be just fine, thanks.
All the Vernon College-bound Holland did in 2013 was lead Cayuga to the regional quarterfinals, going 13-3 on the mound with a minuscule 0.83 Earned Run Average. He struck out 137 in 72 innings (1.9 Ks/inning) and walked only 13.
At the plate, he was just as strong. Holland hit .519 on the year, drove in 32 runs and stole 25 bases.
“He really became the leader of this team early in the season,” CHS coach Greg Branch said. “He was a guy we could always count on to get you deep into the ballgame.
“But what impressed me the most was how he turned his season around at the plate.”
For his play, Holland has been named the Dogwood Circle baseball Player of the Year for 2013.
The most spectacular thing about Holland’s rise in 2013 didn’t actually come on the field, per se.
He’d always been a very good ball player, one who kept his head down and did his job.
But, until 2013, there’d always been someone else there to lead the Wildcats, whether that be Gunner Thompson or Jake Nash or Jimmy Johnson.
In 2013, there was Holland, and he responded to the challenge put forth to him by Branch, his teammates and, most importantly, himself.
“It was just my responsibility,” Holland said. “There was no added pressure at all.”
Added Branch, “He never really shows a ton of emotion, he just goes about his business every single day. That’s the approach he took this year...but you could tell at times he put this team on his shoulders.”
The 2013 Cayuga team wasn’t Branch’s most talented in the last three or four years, but they advanced to the regional quarterfinals on will more than talent, and despite issues surrounding the program.
A lot of that will was helped put in place by Holland, who took on his leadership role like he did everything else, with a quiet persistence.
“I just said we had to focus on baseball,” Holland said. “Forget all the drama, forget all the injuries. Baseball isn’t a one-person sport, it’s a team sport.”
Now, Holland is headed to North Texas to rejoin Nash and Johnson on the diamond, this time at Vernon College.
The former Wildcat is expected to make a quick impact on the mound for the Chaparrals.
“After the loss (to Harleton), I was sad but at least I had something to look forward to,” he said. “That was a big plus.”
Jacob Cheatham, Sr., Elkhart
Not many players get to call themselves record-holders.
The good ones can claim to own some team and maybe district records, while great players can claim some state marks as their own.
Then there is Elkhart infielder Jacob Cheatham, who just finished the most prolific triples season in national history.
Cheatham’s 17 triples in 2013 eclipsed the former record by one, but it wasn’t the only thing that defined the Cisco College-bound players year.
Cheatham hit an area-best .556 for Elkhart in 2013, running his four-year career average to .550.
That earned Cheatham first-team all-state honors, as well as the District 19-2A Offensive Player of the Year nod.
Levi Smith, Sr., Elkhart
Baserunners leading off from first or second against Elkhart this year had a choice that all baserunners have – should they stay or should they go?
Against the Elks, if those runners chose the latter, the odds were they weren’t going to get to their destination safely.
That’s because Elkhart backstop Levi Smith threw out more than 50 percent of potential base-stealers in 2013 en route to a first-team all-state nod, a year after being a second-team selection.
Smith was also a starter in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association (THSBCA) all-star game earlier this month and is headed to catch at Stephen F. Austin University.
But, Smith wasn’t just a defensive star. The senior hit .435 for the Elks in the middle of their potent lineup.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Jordan White, Sr., Elkhart
With the graduation of their ace a year ago, many coaches would find themselves worried about finding a replacement for this season.
Not Elkhart Coach John Adair, who knew what he had in No. 2 starter Jordan White.
White didn’t disappoint, moving seamlessly into the No. 1 role for the Elks, helping Elkhart back to the regional semifinals a year after a state tournament run.
White was 10-2 with 107 strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA on the season. He was the Pitcher of the Year in District 19-2A, and is bound for Howard College to play baseball next season.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Ryan Gray, Fr., Neches
No year in recent memory produced as many good newcomers as 2013 did in the area, but most of those newcomers were able to assimilate into strong lineups for protection.
Not the case for Neches freshman Ryan Gray. Gray was the Tigers best hitter all year long, even though he was only in the ninth grade.
Gray hit .413 for the Tigers in 2013, and was beat out for a first-team all-district spot at shortstop by Cayuga stalwart Hunter Johnson.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Greg Branch, Cayuga
When the calendar moved from 2012 to 2013, Greg Branch wasn’t the Cayuga baseball coach.
In fact, when his team left the field at UT-Tyler at the end of last season, Branch thought his coaching career was done as he moved into administration.
That, however, wasn’t the case and despite not having a set schedule or an assistant coach for much of the year, Cayuga once against won 24 games, making it four-straight season the Wildcats won at least that many games under Branch.
Branch also did it with a patchwork lineup that seemed to almost vary from week-to-week and a team that was, admittedly, short on the star power of years past.
Still, the team advanced to the regional quarterfinals, owing as much to Branch’s steady influence in the dugout as any of the play on the field.
2013 Dogwood Circle Baseball Team
MVP — Chantz Holland, Sr., Cayuga
Offensive POY — Jacob Cheatham, Sr., Elkhart
Defensive POY — Levi Smith, Sr., EHS
Pitcher of the Year — Jordan White, Sr., EHS
Newcomer of the Year — Ryan Gray, Fr., Neches
Coach of the Year — Greg Branch, CHS
P: Chico Herod, Jr., Palestine — The definite ace of the Wildcat staff, Herod went 6-2 for Palestine with a 2.05 ERA. He also struck out 103 in only 68 innings.
P: Chantz Holland, Sr., CHS — The Vernon College-bound senior ended his career in style, going 13-3 on the mound with an ERA under 1.00. Also hit better than .500.
P: Jordan White, Sr., EHS — White filled the ace role nicely for Elkhart, going 10-2 with a 1.35 ERA on the year, striking out 107 along the way.
C: Levi Smith, Sr., EHS — The SFA-bound Smith was once again stellar, earning 1st team all-state honors after batting .435.
1B: John Vickery, Jr., CHS — A transfer into Cayuga, Vickery held down first base, committing only one error on the year while batting a robust .435.
2B: Brian Johnson, Sr., EHS — Johnson wrapped up a solid if not spectacular career in 2013, batting .325. In his four-year career, the senior made only five errors.
3B: Jacob Cheatham, Sr., EHS — The numbers for Cheatham speak for themselves: .556 average, all-state infielder and national record 17 triples.
SS: Juan Trejo, Sr., PHS — One of Palestine’s senior leaders, Trejo led the Wildcat back to the postseason with a .400 average and an almost .600 On Base Percentage.
OF: Cullen Adams, Soph., EHS — Adams was a revelation for the Elks in a much needed place, batting .423 during the 2013 season.
OF: Hunter Johnson, Sr., CHS — Johnson did it all for the Wildcats, batting .418 and stealing 24 bases while playing everywhere on the field. Was also 7-0 on the mound.
OF: Zane Worsencroft, Sr., PHS — A transfer in from out of state, Worsencroft’s impact was quick. The 19-3A Defensive Player of the Year hit .440 while also stealing 17 bases.
DH: Austin Brown, Sr., PHS — Another of the Wildcats’ stellar seniors, the big first baseman hit .405 and led the Wildcats in home runs to wrap up his high school career.
Util: Lane Stringfield, Sr., Westwood — 2013 was a rough one for Westwood, but Stringfield was a silver lining. The senior hit almost .400 at the plate, and struck out 60 batters in less than 50 innings.
P: Brian Gummelt, Jr., PHS
P: Waylon Morris, Soph., Frankston
P: Hunter Parker, Sr., EHS
C: Jaret Walthall, Sr., CHS
2B: Justice Bean, Fr., FHS
3B: Payton Wallace, Jr., CHS
SS: Cole Bridges, Sr., EHS
OF: Jackson Adair, Fr., EHS
OF: James David, Soph., PHS
OF: Devin Harris, Sr., PHS
DH: Ryan Gray, Fr., Neches
Util: Tye Griffin, Sr., FHS
Hunter Jenkins, Brayden Walthall, Cota Wilburn (CAYUGA); Hunter Mewbourn (FRANKSTON); Ryan Jones (NECHES); Ryan Zavala (PALESTINE);
Players picked for the Dogwood Circle team were nominated by their respective coaches. Players who were not nominated were not eligible for selection.