Welcome to Oak Ridge varsity baseball, Logan Letney.
It was March 3, 2016, and Letney, a freshman, came up to bat in the Arlington Tyde Classic against state power Southlake Carroll.
It was the top of the seventh inning, and Letney was looked upon to pinch-hit in a game the Dragons had well in hand over the War Eagles at 9-0.
But in his first varsity at-bat, Letney hit a 395-foot, three-run home run over the right-field wall.
JJ Peirce, who is now the head coach of the War Eagles, was an assistant on Mike Pirtle’s staff at the time.
“He’s going to be very special,” Peirce recalled thinking to himself. “He stayed up with us [on varsity] the rest of the time.”
Flash forward to 2019, and Letney is on top of the Montgomery County baseball world. His impressive season on the mound and talent at the plate makes the future TCU Horned Frog The Courier’s Player of the Year.
Letney put up tremendous numbers on the mound this spring. He was the ace of a team that went 21-9-1 and reached the area round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Letney posted a 10-2 record and a 0.58 ERA to go with 86 strikeouts and just eight walks in over 60 innings. Astonishing numbers.
“The ERA is not surprising because he gets up there and what he does is he makes you hit his pitch,” Peirce said. “He’s always been that. He gets up there, [and he] is going to throw strikes and compete in the zone. If they hit him, they hit him.”
Peirce said the numbers could have been more impressive, though. Letney got pulled early in a few outings after the War Eagles grabbed a big lead. Oak Ridge’s playoff run was only two rounds deep as well, which cost Letney a start or two.
“That’s phenomenal,” Peirce said. “He’s in the zone, and the crazy thing is, he could have pitched more innings than that.”
One game that stood out to Peirce was against The Woodlands — the first District 15-6A contest of the year after just a handful of non-district games.
Oak Ridge beat the Highlanders 2-0, and Letney struck out six and allowed six hits on 103 pitches. The senior did something selfless that outing that Peirce won’t soon forget. During a mound visit in the seventh inning, Letney insisted that closer Blane Romero enter the game to close it out if he allowed any more hits.
The Woodlands got a double, and Romero came on. Two outs later, the save was made.
“For a high school kid to do that, it says a lot about him,” Peirce said. “He trusts his teammates. It’s not about him having to finish the game and get the glory. It says a lot of him.”
Letney batted .372 at the plate with two homers and 20 RBIs. He scored 20 runs and walked 23 times.
Those were impressive numbers considering pitchers didn’t give him much to swing at. Peirce thought that if it wasn’t for all the walks, Letney could have easily batted over .400.
“People just pitched around him,” Peirce said. “He didn’t get a lot of pitches and didn’t see a lot. But he took advantage when he did.”
Most of all, Peirce will remember just how mature Letney was mentally.
“He’s got great character,” Peirce said. “Everybody that sees him and watches him — he is what you get. Maturity-wise, he’s like a college kid. And not like a freshman or sophomore — he’s like a junior or senior college kid. His mentality,
work ethic and everything. He’s a great kid.”
OFFENSIVE MVP: Dalton Davis, Sr., Montgomery
Dalton Davis’ junior year didn’t go to plan, on or off the baseball field.
But during his senior year with the Montgomery Bears, he rose above adversity and produced a fantastic offensive season.
His .459 batting average, 15 extra base-hits and 18 RBIs make Davis The Courier’s Offensive Most Valuable Player.
“His junior year, we were counting on him to be one of our guys because he could just hit,” Montgomery coach Chris Morris said. “He got a leg injury he was trying to get over, but it pretty much hindered him all year.”
Prior to his leg injury, Davis also had to endure the wrath of Hurricane Harvey as his family’s home was damaged with flood waters in late August of 2017.
The year 2019 presented a fresh start. His leg injury was healed, his family’s home was re-done, and he was ready to play ball.
“Coming into his senior year, if he could stay healthy, he was going to be a great player for us,” Morris said. “Dalton has always been a good offensive player for us. Luckily, he stayed healthy this year, and he had a great year at the plate.”
Morris felt that Davis’ approach at the plate gave him an edge. His setbacks from the year before were used to his favor.
“Dalton is a very mentally tough hitter,” Morris said. “He has great at-bats and doesn’t let bad calls get into his head. I think that’s what causes him to be so successful. And I think some of that comes from being injured, and his house got flooded during Harvey. He kind of had to go through that struggle with his family. Different stuff like that, I think it’s helped Dalton become a mentally tough player.”
Davis, who is speedy on the base paths (14 stolen bases and 30 runs scored) fluctuated between leadoff batter and the three-hole early in the year. Leadoff turned out to be the spot he would hold down through district play.
“He’s fast, and he could bunt if you needed him to bunt,” Morris said. “Once we figured that out, he stayed there all through district.”
The .459 batting average is the program record during Morris’ 11-year tenure as head coach. Davis totaled two homers, nine doubles and four triples.
District 20-5A was not an easy league to stand out in with talent on every team, but the coaches voted Davis the Offensive MVP there as well.
“Our district was loaded with pitching,” Morris said. “We saw some very good pitchers. Every team had a guy that could pitch, and it seemed like we faced that guy every Tuesday and Friday. Dalton was steady, and I think that’s what stood out to the other coaches.”
Davis will play for Blinn College.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Drew Romo, Jr., The Woodlands
High school baseball fans who enjoy watching a catcher command a game have one more season to watch Drew Romo up close.
The Woodlands catcher, a three-year letter-winner, stood out behind the plate once again in 2019 and is The Courier’s Defensive Most Valuable Player.
The top defender in Montgomery County was a first-team selection in District 15-6A (there was no defensive superlative) as the Highlanders won the championship.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of him,” The Woodlands coach Ron Eastman said. “He’s first-team all-state, second-team All-American. All the accolades have been very well deserved.”
Dare to run on Romo? That’s a hefty risk to take as he gunned down 11 runners stealing and picked off three more.
“He did an outstanding job handling our pitching staff,” Eastman said. “He pretty much shut down the running game of most of the teams we played the entire season. That makes a huge difference for us defensively when we know that he’s got that kind of throwing ability behind the plate.”
Romo also had a .993 fielding percentage, committing two errors out of 300 total chances.
Working with the talented Highlanders pitching staff was also a strong suit for Romo.
“Coach Shane Graves does a great job with our pitchers,” Eastman said. “He and Drew go over what kind of scouting report we have the day before we play. We’ve pretty much this year turned the pitch-calling over to Drew, and the pitchers speed up the game a little bit. Drew did an excellent job with the staff, learning their strengths and learning what they need to improve on. He’s like a second coach on the field.”
Romo’s been on varsity since his freshman year and works hard at improving.
“He really improved his receiving this season,” Eastman said. “He really did a good job helping our pitchers out with the strike zone. Also, he improved his blocking. He’s a very hard worker.”
Romo has one more year at Scotland Yard. He has been a verbal commit to LSU since ninth grade and could be high MLB draft pick in 2020.
But as a senior, the focus will be a return trip to Round Rock and the state tournament. The Highlanders reached the semifinals last season when Romo was a sophomore.
“Drew’s focused and is going to have a great season for us,” Eastman said. “I’m hoping he can keep his focus and help us win a championship next year.”
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Connor Phillips, Sr., Magnolia West
Connor Phillips never pitched in a high school playoff game prior to his senior year as Magnolia West was always on the outside of the postseason looking in earlier in his career.
Without any experience in that regard, Phillips got his chance in 2019, and he was a bonafide ace. The 6-foot-2 right-hander was the Game 1 starter for the Mustangs in every round, allowed just four total runs and was 5-0. Combine that with an incredible regular season, and you’ve got The Courier’s Pitcher of the Year.
“That guy — he wanted the ball,” Magnolia West coach Justin Faltysek said. “He wanted the spotlight, wanted the biggest games. Connor’s one of the best competitors that I’ve ever coached. He’s just a tough kid.”
Phillips just had nasty stuff and commanded of all his pitches as the Mustangs beat Willis, Pflugerville, Tomball, Nederland and Georgetown to take an early advantage in each series.
“It’s a three-game series, but winning the first one is a big deal,” Faltysek said. “The guys trust Connor and want him on the mound out there.”
Phillips was the ace of the staff for the District 19-5A champions. He had a 12-3 record and posted a 1.13 ERA in 922/3 innings. He eclipsed the 100-strikeout mark early in the playoffs and ended up with 125 on the year to go along with 39 walks.
“To me, it’s his ERA,” Faltysek said of what stood out the most. “A 1.13 ERA in high school baseball is something special. You hold your opponents down run-wise, you give your team a chance to win ball games.”
Phillips, who just turned 18 years old in May, became a 35th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this month. He initially was set to pitch for LSU, but will instead pitch for McLennan Community College this coming year, according to Faltysek.
“Connor had a big hand in what we did this year,” Faltysek said. “He had a big hand in turning this program around. We can do this here. We can be a good team year in and year out. You have to have strong guys like Connor to do that. He did everything we asked him to do.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Cole Ketzner, Jr., Magnolia
A year after big prospects Jordan Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein got drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, Magnolia coach Taylor Shiflett had some big holes to fill on the field.
Magnolia didn’t return much experience beyond senior catcher Bo Willis, so it was time to meet the next group of Bulldogs in 2019.
Shiflett found a star in Cole Ketzner, the junior first baseman who is The Courier’s Newcomer of the Year.
“He had a good year on JV (as a sophomore),” Shiflett said. “He’s just one of those kids you felt like could contribute right away and be a starter for us. In the offseason, he was named a team captain. We expected him to come in and help out.”
According to Shifflet, Ketzner was a move-in from Oklahoma a couple years back.
“He’s the only thing that Texas got from Oklahoma that’s any good,” Shifflet said with a chuckle. “He moved in the first part of his sophomore year and got on varsity his junior year. He was a good move-in for us.”
Ketzner batted .400 for the Bulldogs and showed some power with three homers and 31 RBIs. He totaled eight doubles, two triples and scored 22 runs.
“He’s just a consistent hitter,” Shiflett said. “He drove the ball the other way, he didn’t try to do too much at the plate, didn’t strike out a lot. He worked the count, and just overall, he’s a big kid that hit a lot of doubles early, got hot, and he just stayed with it.”
Ketzner was protected in the order by the Bulldogs’ returning star.
“He had a little bit of help hitting behind Bo when district got here,” Shiflett said. “When we had runners on early, he’d get better pitches sometimes when Bo wouldn’t.”
Shiflett stated that Ketzner is making the rounds in travel ball this summer and has college potential.
“He’s a great character kid,” he said. “Does everything you ask. He’s a great student and a great community guy.”
COACH OF THE YEAR: Justin Faltysek, Magnolia West
It didn’t take Justin Faltsysek much time to establish Magnolia West as a contender.
Faltysek came to the Mustangs from New Waverly in 2017 and coached one year as an assistant on James Dillard’s staff. He took over as head coach a year later, and in his second season, Magnolia West transcended.
The Mustangs finished with a 31-7 record and made the furthest playoff run in school history, reaching the Region III-5A finals. Faltysek is The Courier’s choice for Coach of the Year.
Although the Mustangs were eliminated by Georgetown, it was like a dream come true for Faltysek to be able to manage a team at Blue Bell Park on the campus of Texas A&M.
“Getting to the regional finals and to play at A&M where I’d seen so many baseball games — having the kids experience that — it’s something they’ll remember forever,” Faltysek said.
Having not made the playoffs since 2014, the Mustangs got a very early indication that everything they had been working on was starting to pay off.
Magnolia West was supposed to play a tournament in Bryan in February, but it was rained out. Faltysek received an interesting phone call from Oak Ridge coach JJ Peirce with an offer to play a doubleheader that Saturday. Faltysek jumped at the opportunity of playing the Class 6A power, especially after having already played The Woodlands earlier in the month (a 3-2 loss).
Magnolia West made a statement by beating Oak Ridge twice — 8-5 and 5-4.
“We had a great day of baseball,” Faltysek said. “You could see it in those kids’ eyes after that — we talked about how that validated everything we talked about.”
From there, Magnolia West won 12 straight District 19-5A games to clinch the championship before the final week (the Mustangs went 12-2 after a pair of losses to College Station).
“We were picked fifth in that district,” Faltysek said. “And to start out 12-0, that’s a tribute to our kids.”
Faltysek’s best memory from the playoff run was in the regional quarterfinals against a familiar opponent in Tomball. Magnolia West was the underdog coming into the contest at Grand Oaks. But they beat the Cougars 1-0 for the early advantage in the series.
“Game 1 against Tomball, that was with Connor (Phillips) and (Tomball’s Eric) Oakes pitching, that was special,” Faltysek said. “Connor was at the top of his game right there.”