The saying is same time next year, but because of COVID-19, how about same time in two years?
The College Station and Kingwood Park baseball teams are meeting in a Class 5A best-of-3 bi-district series for the second time in three years. They’ll play a doubleheader at 3 p.m. Friday at Navasota with Game 3 at 11 a.m. Saturday if necessary.
The teams had a memorable bi-district series in 2019 with College Station winning the rubber game 2-1 in eight innings on Bryson Lucas’ walk-off RBI single. Lucas was one of 10 seniors for College Station that season, which also saw head coach Scott Holder leave for Prosper when it ended.
The 21st-ranked Cougars (21-8-2) have been rebuilt under second-year coach Chris Litton, and another quality series is expected against the senior-laden, sixth-ranked Panthers (29-6-1), who return all their starters from last year.
“They play great defense and throw a lot of strikes,” Litton said. “They force you to beat them.”
Kingwood Park has a deep pitching staff with seniors Tyler Ward, Kaeden Gerth, Zach Rennard, Cayden Hart, Rylan Waltmon and Matt King combining for 182 2/3 innings, 197 strikeouts and 89 walks with a 1.77 earned run average.
Litton believes playing 14 games in pitching-rich District 19-5A, led by 12th-ranked Magnolia and 13th-ranked Brenham, have prepared the Cougars well for the postseason.
“There’s 14 guys in our district who are 88-plus [mph] on the mound and can pitch,” Litton said. “I just feel like in the state of Texas there’s not another district that is like that.”
Litton said the playoffs arguably started seven weeks ago for the Cougars when they lost their district opener 2-1 to Rudder, which had two quality starters but went 4-10 in league play, tying Katy Paetow for sixth place.
“Everybody coming out of 19-5A is battle-tested,” said Litton, adding that Kingwood Park is similar to Magnolia, which swept the Cougars in the final regular-season series 4-1 and 3-0. “They’re going to put balls in play, and they are not going to strike out a lot.”
Kingwood Park is hitting .296 led by shortstop/pitcher King, who is batting .444 with 10 homers, 14 doubles and 57 runs batted in. Zach Rennard is hitting .324 with four homers and 26 RBIs. King and Rennard started in the 2019 series against College Station. First baseman/catcher CJ Schoettlin is hitting .284 with 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs.
College Station’s pitching is topped by junior right-handers Ryland Urbanczyk (6-2, 1.62 ERA), a Rice pledge, and Blake Binderup (5-1, 2.51 ERA), a Texas A&M pledge. They get support from junior right-hander Luke Steward (4-1, 2.15 ERA, 3 saves), a McNeese State pledge, and senior right-hander Cole Broadus (3-1, 1.90, 4 saves). The Cougars’ top hitters are junior shortstop Michael Elko (.386, 2 HRs, 12 RBIs), a Northwestern pledge; senior utility player Braden Fowler (.379, 15 RBIs, 16 SBs), an East Texas Baptist signee; senior outfielder Colby Smart (.375, 10 SBs); Binderup (.363, 2 HRs, 27 RBIs); catcher Chanden Scamardo (.318, 4 HRs, 8 2Bs, 25 RBIs), an A&M pledge; and junior second baseman Max Childress (.294, 15 RBIs).
NOTES — The series winner advances to play the Austin Anderson vs. Pflugerville Weiss winner. ... College Station’s prom is Saturday. ... Kingwood Park made the state tournament in 2018, the best showing in program history. It lost in the semifinals 3-2 in eight innings to Northwest Eaton, the eventual state champion. ... After beating Kingwood Park two years ago, College Station was swept in area by Georgetown, which was the state runner-up. ... Kingwood Park head coach Bruce Cox is 216-130-1 in 10 seasons, including 192-94-1 at Kingwood Park. ... Kingwood Park has six players committed or signed to play at the next level — shortstop/pitcher King and catcher Jonas Holloway (UTSA), Ward (Angelina), first base/catcher CJ Schoettlin (Angelina), infielder/pitcher Jack Fulton (Rhodes) and center fielder Tyler May (Howard Junior College). ... The College Station baseball team raised $23,954 in its VsCancer campaign for children battling Pediatric Brain Cancer, surpassing its goal of $18,000.