Joseph Johnson came to Caney Creek because he saw potential in a program that could elevate upwards and become a team with a reputation of not being an easy out.
The former Aldine Davis head coach got rolling during the summer after taking over.
“I got to start meeting them during the summer and get to know their personalities,” Johnson said. “See what works and see what doesn’t work. Once school started rolling, they knew the weight room was going to be something that’s super important to our program.”
Johnson came in and immediately wanted the Panthers in the weight room in preparation for the 2021 season.
“They’ve bought in and we’re tracking their progress,” Johnson said. “I think being able to see their progress helped them a lot. The weight room was huge, and they bought in right away. I was proud of that progress.”
Caney Creek went 3-6 a year ago in the COVID-19-shortened season. The Panthers played just the nine games under Kristopher Carroll before he excepted a coaching position at Humble High School during the summer.
The roster is basically a fresh slate for Johnson’s program. Each roster spot, no matter who played there in previous seasons, was tried out for and earned.
“I told them right away that there is no job guaranteed,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing from last year that I’m basing it off of. (They) are trying out with me every day.”
Returning are a couple arms on the mound that Johnson is excited about.
Derek Brieden missed his junior year due to surgery and will be looked upon as the No. 1 starter as a senior.
“Being out, he’s really not taking anything for granted this year,” Johnson said. “Just following his lead is what our program has been doing.”
The No. 2 starter is slated to be Gage Miertschin, a junior.
“He’s going to be pretty important to us pitching-wise,” Johnson said of Miertschin. “He and Derek will also split in the outfield when the other guy is pitching. I have a feeling and I’m confident that they will keep us in any game we’re in. I’ve seen their stuff and know what they can do. I have confidence in both of those pitchers.”
Alejandro Molina, who’s been on varsity since he was a freshman, will solidify the shortstop position.
“He has the most experience and he’s going to be our shortstop that hits in middle of our lineup,” Johnson said. “We’ll follow his lead offensively.”
Another player Johnson mentioned was Brandon Prater. Despite missing baseball workouts due to football, Johnson has been in impressed with the senior’s work ethic and ability. Prater will help at first base and in relief on the mound.
“Been happy with what I’ve seen from him once football ended,” Johnson said.
The Panthers varsity squad will total eight seniors and seven juniors. Sixteen players will compete on the junior varsity.
Caney Creek’s last jaunt into the playoffs occurred in 2013. This year’s District 20-5A has tightened up compared to the previous alignment and gives Caney Creek an opportunity to break that streak.
The Panthers will meet with previous alignment teams in Kingwood Park, Montgomery, Lake Creek, New Caney and Porter. Cleveland and Dayton were added to the mix this season.
“This district is loaded,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of good teams and I knew that when I accepted the job. That’s where I want us to beat. I want it that when people hear the phrase “Caney Creek baseball” that that’s a playoff contender year in and year out. I want that to be the expectation. The kids know that and know the standard of set forward. It’s up to them to reach it.”
Johnson envisions a program that can’t be overlooked by the opposition.
“It’s going to be a good year,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a tough team to compete with. I don’t think it will be the same as it has been in the past when (the opponent) sees Caney Creek and they think maybe they won’t have to bring everything they’ve got. I think we’re going to surprise some people.”