Heading into a three-game bi-district baseball playoff series with District 30-3A runner-up Banquete, it would have been easy for the George West Longhorns to focus on the ones that got away.
The Horns, who finished 17-10 overall, were in several close losses in a strong district, including a 3-2 setback to district champion Mathis and an 11-10 nail-biter against district runner-up Odem. Earlier in the season, GW defeated Odem in a tournament game that did not count in the district standings.
Instead the Horns, led by Jeremy Wheeler, in his first year at George West, are focused on making the most of the opportunities ahead of them, knowing they can battle against any team they face.
Led by six seniors, including Hondo Goebel, John Zuniga, Ryan Thomisee, Charlie Hulsebusch, Damon Repka and Conner Jeter, George West enjoyed plenty of experience and leadership in earning their playoff spot.
“Ryan has been a starter since he was a freshman, and John has been a starter since he was a sophomore,” Wheeler said. “Both of those guys are great leaders. John also hit the ball off the 320 sign in right field, so he has plenty of power.
“Hondo is second in the district in strikeouts only behind a kid at Mathis who is leading the state. He has great command of his pitches and does an outstanding job throwing strikes.
“Repka has had some big hits for us, and we rely on Jeter as a baserunner. That’s a lot of experience we’ve been able to count on.”
A 13-9 win over Orange Grove in the last game of the regular season earned the Longhorns the No. 3 spot in district.
“That was a big win over Orange Grove,” Wheeler said. “We came out and did what we needed to do and took care of that game, and that was really huge for us.”
A combination of strong pitching and consistent hitting has allowed George West to challenge every opponent it has faced, Wheeler said.
“We pitch well but we are able to score a lot of runs, too, so we’ve been fortunate to be able to count on both,” he said. “Our pitchers work hard and throw strikes — we don’t like to walk guys. Any high school baseball team will make errors, but we make up for them by making enough plays to win games.
Goebel led the George West pitching rotation and had a 7-3 record with one save, while Charlie Hulsebusch, the No. 2 starter, was 5-2.
Thomisee provides a steady hand at catcher, Holmes plays first base and Caleb Fruge mans second base, Zuniga starts at shortstop and Hulsebusch locks down third base when he isn’t on the mound.
Turner Lee is the team’s centerfielder, with Weston Rhodes in left field and Repka and Colton Salinas splitting time in right field.
The positions change as needed depending on who is pitching, and Goebel and Lee also play first base and Holmes plays third base.
The Longhorns are able to rely on three hitters with batting averages over .400, including Thomisee who is btting .500, Holmes is is averaging .412 and Lee who hits .400. Several other players are batting over .300.
“We swing the bats pretty well,” Wheeler said. “We work hard on it and changed the approach from what they’re used to. We like to hit the ball all over the field. The guys have bought in to what we’re trying to do and it’s really paid off for us.”
Facing strong competition and being competitive in those games has given the Longhorns the confidence to believe they can win against anyone they face.
“It doesn’t matter who we go up against, the guys are looking to win every time they take the field,” Wheeler said. “One of the things that’s so good about George West and the culture here is these guys believe they can win and that’s the goal every game.
“They also like to have fun, and that’s important. They work hard but they enjoy being here. I love our practices. The kids don’t complain and do whatever you ask. It’s been a lot of fun to coach these guys.”