As crazy as this might sound, the Texas high school baseball regular season is complete. We say “crazy” because it seemed like a few days ago when we were forecasting icy weather in February and living at the ballpark during non-district, early-season tournament play. As much as we love the tournament and district seasons, there’s nothing quite like the playoffs. Everything is on the line and seniors play for a chance to be crowned state champions, their legacies and simply a chance to play another day with their teammates before their high school careers conclude.
Predicting winners is probably a recipe to be mocked after the first-round results and unintentionally ruffle the feathers of some fans and coaches, but we’re doing it anyway. Because predictions are fun, especially this time of the year. Drew and I each picked the regional winners for 5A and 6A as well as a “Team to Watch” in each region; we tried to avoid district winners as a “Team to Watch” and we tried to mix in some true sleepers with really good non-district champs.
Winner: Flower Mound
The first-round matchup with Prosper won’t be easy, but if Flower Mound can get through that, it has the pitching depth and hitting talent to make a deep run. In a potential game three, Flower Mound would often have the advantage on the mound, which often makes a huge impact. The lack of hitting production - It has scored more than four runs just once the last eight games - does concern me, but this is a team that finished second in a loaded district and also beat Bridgeland, Klein Oak, Houston Memorial, Cy-Fair, Cy Ranch, Wylie and Pearland in the non-district season; all of those teams made the playoffs and three of them won their district.
Team to Watch: Americas
I don’t know if calling Americas, the best team from El Paso, a “sleeper” is fair, but it is easy to overlook because of all the DFW giants nearby - Hebron, Southlake Carroll, Guyer, Martin and the list goes on. I do know this: Americas won’t be scared of anyone it plays, has as much pitching depth as anyone in its bracket and competes very well in the batter’s box.
Despite a tough road, Hebron is battle tested and loaded with pitching. With Will Patterson and Marcos Paz headlining the rotation, Hebron can come at you in waves with the Seo brothers, MJ and Minjae, as well as Wichita State LHP signee Tyler Dobbs. At the plate, the Hawks have speed and power at the top of the lineup with Aden Howard and Lane Haworth and some experienced players behind them who have been coming up big all year long.
Team to Watch: Allen
One team that will have a chance to make some noise is Allen in the second year of Coach Jason Wilson’s tenure. On the mound they are paced by stud freshman Chandler Hart and junior Brady Coe. Offensively, Coe, Lathan Van Ausdall, and Tate Greene make the Eagles go. If they are able to find a way to get past playoff mainstay Flower Mound Marcus, they have a shot to get on a roll and get the Eagles on the map for the next couple years.
Winner: Cypress Woods
Chase Morgan is returning to the mound and if he’s healthy, that gives Cypress Woods one of the best one-two punches on the mound with depth behind it. During the regular season, Cypress Woods had the strongest case as the best team in the state and is anchored by strong defense up the middle, veteran hitting from Tristan Russell, Sam Myers and Ethan Farris, and Mason Green is throwing as well as any pitcher in the state.
Team to Watch: Grand Oaks
Classifying the likes of Mansfield Legacy, Rockwall or Rockwall-Heath as "teams to watch" doesn’t work. They’re very much top contenders. Grand Oaks limped through a loaded district schedule as it dealt with some tough injuries, but could be getting healthier at the right time. If their pitching is right, it’s a deep group with bat-missing stuff that could impact series-deciding game threes. Plus, Larry Drake is one of the top shortstops in Houston and gives Grand Oaks solid defense at a premium spot.
Falling one game short last year against cross-town rival Rockwall-Heath. The Yellowjackets return a core of seniors looking to take that next step after two years of heartbreak. If the offense, led by Pearson Riebock, Brayden Randle, Micah Kendrick, Mac Rose and Jake Overstreet finishes the year the way it started, Rockwall will be a tough out. The pitching has been solid with Spoerl, Lindeman, Rose, and Riebock eating up the majority of the innings on the mound.
Team to Watch: Tomball
A young team loaded with talent that could find their way deep into the playoffs is Tomball. Cade Arrambide is arguably the best junior catcher in America and can really hit. Senior Alan Lopez along with juniors Braeden Scherzer and Keegan Demmer pace the offense. Freshman Catcher Hopkins has had some big games of late. Young arms sophomore Caleb Daniell, freshman Karson Reeder, and CJ Sampson have been really good down the stretch. This group is talented enough to compete with anyone and could make some noise if they get hot.
No one in the state boasts more pitching depth than Pearland, which features Caden Ferraro, Jaden Barfield, Ryler Smart, Isaiah Castaneda, Nico Partida and more. The Oilers haven’t lost a game in nearly two months and after a rocky start to the season they’re hitting their stride at the right time. Looking way ahead, a potential bracket final between Ridge Point or Cinco Ranch would be dynamite. Both of those teams are state title contenders.
Team to Watch: Katy
The Tigers started the year scorching-hot with impressive wins over San Antonio Reagan, Houston Lamar, and Ridge Point in February. They stumbled after that and looked out of sorts when I saw them, failing to play clean baseball on defense and come up with timely hitting. But the veteran talent, especially on the mound, is there and they’ll enter the playoffs having won 11-straight games.
One of the most talented rosters in Texas, Pearland boasts talented arms and bats throughout the lineup. On the mound, Ryler Smart and Nico Partida have been strong on the mound with contributions from John Mader-Cooper, Caden Ferrraro, and Isaiah Castaneda. At the plate, Ferraro, Anthony Avalos and Nico Partida provide some punch. Athletic outfielders Brett Smajstrla and Isaiah Castaneda give the Oilers some plus defensive capabilities. Pearland is a real threat to do damage in Round Rock.
Team to Watch: Strake Jesuit
I am going with Strake Jesuit as a dark horse candidate to make a little noise in Region III. A team that made it to Round Rock in 2021 and to the regional finals in 2022 can prove that experience matters. Senior shortstop Clay Richardson gives Strake some elite speed at the top of the lineup. On the mound, sophomore Ryan Bevington, seniors Harrison Acquaro and John Toney give the Crusaders some high-end options.
Winner: Round Rock
A potential second-round matchup of Round Rock and San Antonio Reagan seems unfair because those two teams should be meeting in a state semifinalist game, not the second round. I’ve seen both teams and I’ll give the very slight edge to Round Rock, a complete team with pitching depth led by Travis Sykora, athleticism, speed, and strong defense up the middle with Hudson Ellis at shorstop and Nick Dunch in center field. The Dragons can bunt, steal bags, hit for power and have a dynamic lineup with quality players on the bench to use late in games, too.
Team to Watch: Lake Travis
If the Cavs find consistent hitting, look out. Because they have as much pitching talent and depth as anyone. For example, Kadyn Leon was throwing out of the bullpen to open the season and is now one of the best starters in the 2024 class; David Womack, who has bounced between JV and Varsity, stepped up to throw 6.1 relief innings to clinch the second seed. Lake Travis doesn’t lack hitting talent but it just hasn’t come through in the clutch enough this season. Perhaps getting out of its tough district will spark better production with the bat.
Awaiting Lake Travis in round one: a one-game playoff at Westwood against stud 2024 pitcher Ridge Morgan. If the Cavs get through that test, they shouldn’t lack confidence. But it's very much a possibility Morgan makes this pick look silly. He's the real deal.
Winner: San Antonio Johnson
A team that just finds ways to win, I am choosing San Antonio Johnson in Region IV. Barrett Johnson gives Johnson a workhorse on the mound while super sophomore Kayson Cunningham leads the way with Johnson, Ryne Farber, Masa Chilcutt, and Mason Krahn on offense. Outside of Cunningham there isn’t a ton of flash but I love this team’s ability to win in a variety of ways.
Team to Watch: Vista Ridge
There will be a gigantic potential showdown in round two with San Antonio Johnson, but if Vista Ridge can find a way to get past that, they will have a real chance to make a run. Hank Howard and Zachary Fetchel give the Rangers a tough 1-2 punch on the mound. At the plate, Alex Berndlmaier, Grant Anderson, Howard, Jake Wagoner, and Issac Garcia are tough outs that will make a pitching staff grind through to get through the lineup. A few outs away from upsetting Westlake last year, this team has the ability to surprise some people.
Finishing a perfect 14-0 in one of the state’s toughest 5A districts speaks for itself. Grapevine has good senior presence in the lineup and 2024 DBU commit Dasan Hill is going to give it a chance to win any game he starts.
Team to Watch: Argyle
Yes, I picked two teams from the same district which speaks to how loaded 7-5A was. Argyle is often going to be the most talented team on the field with a good blend of stuff and depth on the mound, solid defense at premium spots, and dynamic bats in the lineup.
Grapevine is loaded with old and young talent and was able to get past Argyle to win their district. Senior Wes Cunningham and junior Dasan Hill have been a dynamic duo on the mound as they look to get the ball to JoJo Kubo on the back end. At the plate, bats like Keller Shamburger, Ryan Williams and Gianni Corral give the Mustangs some timely hitting and the ability to win close ballgames as they have done all year.
Team to Watch: Birdville
Birdville is a team that is led by Parker Hutyra on the mound and Ben Brooks at the plate. With Hutyra you will have a chance to win every time out and you have seen teams with an ace like him get hot at the right time. If they can win the first weekend against a good Burleson Centennial team, they have a chance to make a run.
Region II is loaded with the likes of Lone Star, Hallsville and more. I have a hard time picking against Aidan Smith. He’s been that good this season, and he’s not the only stud on Lovejoy.
Team to Watch: Porter
I know I said no district champions, but Porter wasn’t listed in the 5A Top 25 at TXHSBaseball.com to end the regular season after a 10-5 district mark. Zane Adams is going to give Porter the advantage on the mound each game he starts and it has some quality depth behind him. The middle of the lineup features some bats that can turn a mistake into a homer.
Frisco is a deep team with talent on the mound and at the plate. Though they finished second in district, Frisco has a chance to go deep with a bevy of arms, speed at the plate, and really good defense. Cade Plunkett and Landon Karrh start on the mound and look to get the ball late to Michael Catalano and Tommy Mulkern.
Team to Watch: Whitehouse
Patrick Mahomes’s alma mater is a team that has some experience in the postseason to go with its talented roster. Michael Dudolski and JJ Idrogo are elite talents while Collin McLemore and Braden Bean are looking to make a run before heading off to college to play next year.
Winner: Magnolia West
James Ellwanger emerged as one of the top pitchers in the state and is riding major MLB Draft helium. But he’s not the only talented arm on the team. Magnolia West has excellent pitching and depth, strong defense up the middle, athleticism, and a deep lineup. There are no easy outs in the lineup.
Team to Watch: Lake Creek
Hey, I did it again. Yes, both Magnolia West and Lake Creek are from the same district and both have similar teams on paper - good pitching led by an ace who can rack up strikeouts, pitching depth, strong defense up the middle and top talent. While it didn’t have much success in the non-district portion of the schedule, I like that Lake Creek challenged itself with games against a ton of top 6A playoff teams.
I was really tempted to put Richmond Foster in this spot. It is legit.
Perennial powerhouse Friendswood looks to find its way back to Round Rock with a loaded rotation and some impact bats. Easton Tumis and Kyle Lockhart give the Mustangs a potent rotation while Boots Landry and Dane Perry provide some pop at the plate. The experience, coaching, and talent make Friendswood a real threat to win it all.
Team to Watch: Lake Creek
Lake Creek has all the ingredients to go deep into the playoffs with arms, bats, and some gritty ballplayers that fall into my favorites category. Weston Moss has been getting stronger throughout the year as he returns from injury and Jackson Wilkerson has been a difference maker as well. Jace Newkirk gives the Lions a quality arm out of the pen. Samson Pugh, Blake Brown, and Sam Lee give Lake Creek some dynamic bats in the lineup. They will have a real chance to meet back up with district foe deep in the postseason.
Winner: Corpus Christi Ray
A potential Ray versus Weslaco East second-round matchup seems unfair to both sides because they’re two of the best in the state. It could also mean Keevyn Goss versus Alex Solis and maybe in a one-game playoff. I’ll give Ray the slight edge because it has Jack Bell.
Team to Watch: Rouse/Liberty Hill
Homer alert: I'm cheating to include two teams from my neck of the woods. The Rouse Raiders didn’t have the regular season they probably thought they would, but they boast impressive pitching depth and experience of winning playoff games before. You could put Liberty Hill in this spot too with a good one-two punch on the mound, good catcher and quality hitting depth. I'm a big believer in the importance of quality catching and pitching depth in the playoffs and Liberty Hill checks both those boxes and it's a well-coached team.
Winner: Smithson Valley
Smithson Valley is my pick to come out of one of the tougher regions in the state. With depth on the mound at the plate, the Rangers have the ability to win in a number of ways. On the mound Jackson Elizondo leads the way with David De Hoyos, Zach Gingrich and Ethan Gonzalez providing offense.
Team to Watch: Alamo Heights
Alamo Heights has a chance to sneak by some people with some really good players on the roster. Bruno Robles on the mound gives the Mules a chance against anyone. Harrison Sobey, Parks Zunker and Jackson Duffin help pace the position players for Alamo Heights.
Hagen Shedd is one of the top two-way talents in the state and leads the way for a talented, deep club that is coming off a fantastic regular season.
Team to Watch: Canyon
Keeping it in district 4-4A, one of the strongest in the state, and picking Canyon as a team that could make some noise. A Randall and Canyon matchup with bigger stakes would attract quite a crowd.
The Raiders swept district play and look to make it to Disch-Falk Field in June. Duncan Bowles, Carson Haffner, and Hagen Shedd give Randall a potent staff. Shedd, Payton Bush and Kole Dudding are a few of several big bats in the lineup. If they can find their way to Austin they may get a chance to avenge one of their three losses on the season, dealt by Celina.
Team to Watch: Canyon
A second team from 4-4A will vie for a state tournament birth with two-way senior Ben Black and junior Sam Johnson doing their thing on the mound and at the plate. If they can get by El Paso Riverside they will have a chance to make some noise in Region I out west.
State semifinalist last season returns a bunch of key, very talented pieces. Noah Bentley, Caden Mitchell and RJ Ruias are back to give Celina one of the deepest, most well-rounded teams in all of 4A.
Team to Watch: Aubrey
Veteran-led team with quality pitching that could make some noise.
Celina is on a mission to get back to Austin to get another crack at Sinton. A loaded pitching staff led by RJ Ruais and Noah Bentley gives the Bobcats a chance against anyone. The two seniors join Jackson Rooker, Caden Mitchell and Major Brignon as a potent offense that has ticked up in the stolen base category this year. As complete of a team as you will find, Celina is a heavy favorite for me to get back to the Final Four.
Team to Watch: Texarkana Pleasant Grove
Over the years Pleasant Grove has become a mainstay in Austin. The Hawks have four top end D1 commits in senior JM Long, junior Brenton Clark, and high profile freshmen Hunter Rose and Spencer Browning. With this crew, Pleasant Grove will look to get back to where they feel they belong.
Winner: China Spring
Seemingly always a threat to make a deep run, China Spring has winning experience and top young talent with Cage McCloud and Dean Hannah.
Team to Watch: Bridge City
Braylen Collins has been a two-way stud all year for Bridge City who has both the pitching and hitting talent to compete with most teams in 4A.
Often times in the postseason star power plays. For Carthage to get to Austin, they will need Connor Cuff and Noah Paddie to continue to do what they’ve done all year. Those two give Carthage a chance to do in baseball what they did in football in December, win a state championship.
Team to Watch: Bullard
In the past we have seen aces carry a team deep into the playoffs. Junior David Wilson has the ability to do that for Bullard. The OU commit has been dominant while juniors Reed Overbeek and Chase Randall along with sophomore Dylan Fowler have been big for the Panthers on offense.
Once again, Sinton is the team to beat in 4A. However, the Pirates aren’t as invincible as they were last season. The rotation of Jaquae Stewart and Braeden Brown can beat anyone in 4A and superstar catcher Blake Mitchell is always lurking as a bullpen option or an option to start a game. Don’t forget: Mitchell started the state semifinal against Celina. The lineup and defense aren’t as deep and good as they were last season, but last season’s team was one of the best Texas high school teams we’ve ever seen.
Team to Watch: El Campo
There isn’t much else that can be said about Sinton at this point. Sinton looks to defend their title with Blake Mitchell and Jaquae Stewart leading the way. There is more than enough talent to compliment the stars led by Braeden Brown to give Adrian Alaniz a great chance to repeat.
Team to Watch: Boerne
If anyone is going to have a chance to knock off Sinton they’re going to have to have a lot of talent and be firing on all cylinders to do so. Boerne has as good of a chance as anyone in Region IV with a bevy of talent themselves. Seniors Cam Johnson Riley Pechacek along with sophomores Dylan and Brooks Perez provide some fireworks for the Greyhound offense. Senior Xander Cloudy has been really good on the mound and they’ll need Landon LeStourgeon to come up big down the stretch to make a push for Austin.
Sawyer Strosnider is one of the best players in the nation for 2024 and can impact the game in every way imaginable. Throw in Cam Harris making a jump on the mound, who is also another talented two-way player, and seniors like Tyler Moody and you have a team capable of winning a state championship.
Team to Watch: Pottsboro
The expectations for Barrett Kent entering 2023 after his summer were sky-high. While he hasn’t quite met those, he’s still been really good. And he might be just rounding into form. Kent is going to be the best starting pitcher in any game he starts.
Boyd has the ingredients to go a long way in 3A and contend for the title. With experience across the board, starters Braden McIntire and Eric Rogers give the Yellowjackets a leg up in any three game series. Jax Head and Aidan LeMasters give Boyd some thump in the middle of the lineup.
Team to Watch: White Oak
One of the best pitchers in the state, regardless of classification, is Gavyn Jones. As the ace, White Oak may want to flip for some one game series and take their chances to get by some of the region’s best.
Winner: Johnson City
This is all I need to say:
Team to Watch: Bosqueville
A lot of seniors returned and are doing their part to give Bosqueville a chance to make a deep playoff run. John Youens, who is a Baylor signee, can take over a game.
Admittedly, I am a homer (see Rockwall pick). That being said, I am going to go with Shiner in 2A. As the cousin of the town doctor, I have watched Shiner go deep in the playoffs or win state championships in multiple sports. Drew Wenske and Ryan Peterson are studs for Shiner and Carson Schuette is a major contributor at the plate and in the box. Bryce Nerada is a senior coming off an All-State campaign.
Team to Watch: Bosqueville
On a team littered with returning All-State and All-District players, Bosqueville will look to take that next step and advance to Austin. Baylor commit John Youens will play a big role in helping Bosqueville do that on the mound and at the plate.
Dustin McComas and Drew Bishop