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Cats call on pitching, defense: Plano seeking seventh straight playoff trip in 2017

Matt Welch mwelch@starlocalmedia.com 3/13/2017

Behind six consecutive playoff appearances, Plano Senior has become the city’s model for consistency on the baseball diamond.

Head coach Rick Robertson is making sure high expectations remain the case for his ball club, although the canvas may look a bit different than years past.

The Wildcats have their work cut out in replacing all but four starters from last year’s bi-district playoff team, but so far a couple strong suits have emerged that have Robertson encouraged.

“Our pitching looks good. I’ve been impressed with those guys,” he said. “They’re coming out, throwing strikes and keeping us in ballgames. Our defense has also played well. With these first 12 games, it’s been about trying to see where everyone fits and getting people in the right places.”

That’s primarily true in the outfield, where Plano graduated its entire starting trio, including three-year starters in A.J. Liu and Brett Hudspeth. The infield is a bit solidified, thanks to returners like senior catcher Garrett Maas and sophomore shortstop Braley Hollins, who earned 6-6A Newcomer of the Year honors last season. Additional returning starters for the Wildcats include seniors Conner Allen and Troy Lee.

“The older guys – Conner, Maas and Troy – have pretty much been three-year starters for us,” Robertson said. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re playing well and are the leaders. Braley is only a sophomore but had a great year last year and a tremendous fall.”

Joining that quartet will be the likes of junior third baseman Jackson Richardson and sophomore first baseman Anderson Acinger, while seniors Kennedy Medlock, Nathaniel Haynes, Matthew Alamia and Joey Winkler are all expected to figure into Plano’s blueprint for the season.

On the mound, Plano has been paced by a strong start from senior Jacob Mattox, who excelled as the team’s No. 2 pitcher last season. Although Robertson said he was unsure about the unit as a whole at the start of the year, his pitching staff has proven steady early on, with Mattox complemented on the bump by junior Matt Foster and senior Caden Foster.

As Robertson continues to finalize positions on the field and in his lineup, it has meant battling through some expected ups and downs on the scoreboard. The Wildcats entered last year’s Frisco Tournament of Champions even at 6-6 on the year, highlighted by a win over state-ranked Arlington Martin (10-3), plus a 6-2 decision over Mansfield and a competitive setback against Class 5A state-ranked Wichita Falls Rider, 8-7.

With District 6-6A action scheduled to begin this week, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against Denton Guyer, Robertson expects pitching and defense to lay the groundwork for his club this year. If a steady presence at the plate follows, a return trip to the playoffs could very well be in the cards.

“We can be capable of anything. Nothing will surprise me,” Robertson said. “Our expectations are always high and that’s where I want them. I think once our hitting comes around, we’ll be OK. I think our pitching and defense can keep us in games and hopefully the hitting can win us some games.”

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter. mwelch@starlocalmedia.com