Wildcats Getting Up To Speed: Plano Soldiering Through Lack Of 6-­6A Prep Time

Plano Senior, Mitchell Hansen, pictured in previous action,
is one of the top baseball prospects in the state.

Matt Welch mwelch@starlocalmedia.com | Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2015 10:00 am

During the non-­district portion of a baseball schedule, coaches can live with the final scores. From a big ­picture standpoint, evaluating things like lineup and pitching options are of greater importance to help the team shore up any preliminary areas of concern before district begins and the final scores take on greater meaning.

Unfortunately for District 6-­6A, the first quarter of district play has essentially served as that evaluation phase after inclement weather wiped away any initially scheduled tournament games in the Metroplex.

“Without doing all that, it’s been a little different. We’re kind of having to do it all on the run,” said Rick Robertson, Plano Senior head coach. “You’re doing it now when games really count, but it’s been different like that for a lot of other teams.”

Going so far as to play in the rain at Grand Prairie’s QuikTrip Park just to get innings under their belts, the Wildcats have been making up for lost time by logging their first four district ball games in an eight ­day span. Not until Friday’s first pitch against Plano East did Plano resume a customary Tuesday-­Friday 6-­6A schedule for the first time all season.

Predictably, the results have been up and down. The Wildcats picked up their first 6-­6A win on Tuesday, doubling up Plano West, 6-­3, to help erase the sting of an 0-­3 start to district play.

“We all knew that this district would be so strong and if you look throughout, everyone seems to be playing with everyone,” Robertson said. “We’ve lost two games by one run that we could have just as easily won as we lost.”

Given its manic schedule, Plano has made extensive use of its pitching staff, utilizing nine different pitchers in its past five games – something that’s traditionally reserved for tournaments when The Wildcats are playing up to six games over a two­ to three ­day span.

“You know who most of your guys are, but then you have other arms that you’re trying to figure out where they’ll fit and what they can and can’t do against other teams,” Robertson said. “When you basically miss 12 games, that’s a lot of innings that you could run them out there and get kids opportunities.”

Among players who have recently drawn starts include seniors Mitchell Hansen, Graham Welch and Michael Cheney, with sophomore Jacob Mattox earning his share of innings out of the bullpen, including 5.1 in relief against West.

“They haven’t gotten to throw as many innings as we would have liked,” Robertson said. “We thought we had them throwing strong coming out of the scrimmage season, but then the weather hits and their stamina is probably not as strong as if we had been playing a normal schedule.”

Fortunately for Plano, pitching is something Robertson envisions becoming a strength for his club and has shown enough promise early on to where the team’s early setbacks aren’t casting any sort of uncertainty.

“We’re sitting there with three losses and we’re not thinking we’re out of anything,” Robertson said.  “If we can start playing the way we know we’re able to do and can make things happen, we can beat anybody.”

That’ll require The Wildcats upping their firepower from the plate, an area that’s been a strong suit for the team in recent years. Through four district games, Plano is averaging 5.5 hits, but is yet to string together consecutive 6­-6A games with at least four hits.

The victory over the Wolves was a step in the right direction, with junior Brett Hudspeth knocking in four runs in what Robertson described as a “one-­man wrecking crew.” Hudspeth has again been operating at designated hitter for The Wildcats, but is also capable of playing catcher or in the outfield.

Regarding the latter, Robertson has been typically deploying junior A.J. Liu in left field and when not pitching, Hansen in center and Welch in right. The infield features a mix of youth and experience, with last year’s district Newcomer of the Year, junior Quinn Waterbury back at first base, while senior Austin Toups shifts from third base to
shortstop. In Toups’ former post plays sophomore Troy Lee, while sophomore Conner Allen and junior Chris Cloud alternate at second base. Sophomore Garrett Maas has carved out reliable innings at catcher.

“We have players and we’re hoping the hitting comes around,” Robertson said. “We’re struggling at the plate right now, but we hope to get that straightened out.”

One familiar name absent from the everyday lineup is senior Cody Farhat, who was named the district MVP out of 10-­5A last year. Since tearing his ACL during football season, Farhat continues his road to recovery with an eye on seeing time on the diamond during his final year of high school ball.

“Cody is out there everyday with us and is doing everything he can to get out there and hit and field,” Farhat said. “I think Monday was five months since his surgery. I’d like to think that somewhere down the line we might get him back, but that’ll depend on his healing process.

“But at the same time, we’ve got to go out there and play. We’ve got to look at who we do have.”

What the Wildcats have is a lineup that Robertson still sees plenty of potential in. The majority of Plano’s batting order helped guide the squad to the Region II Finals last season and coupled with The Wildcats’ recent string of four consecutive district championships, the coach sees little reason why any drop-off would be anticipated this season.

“I think we’re capable of anything. I think anyone in this district is capable of being in the playoff picture,” Robertson said. “We knew that when the district formed that it would be like this. It’s a good group of competitive schools and it’s just a game-­to­-game thing.

“I expect everything from my guys and always will. They expect that from themselves. We’re hoping to work our way back to even and go from there.”