No. 1 Hughes Springs’ Mastery Of The Little Things Yielding Big Results
HUGHES SPRINGS -- The Hughes Springs Mustangs don't hit for a lot of power. The state's top-ranked team in Class 2A has just three home runs and 18 extra-base hits all season.
But that hasn't stopped Hughes Springs from reeling off 20 consecutive victories to begin the year.
“It’s all about pitching at this level -- pitching and defense. And we’re pretty good at both of those," said first-year coach Kent Craig, who came over after leading Franklin to the Class 2A Region II quarterfinals a season ago. "Defensively, we’ve been pretty sound, which has been a little different than in the past. We find a way to score just enough runs to win.”
And winning is all Hughes Springs (20-0, 9-0 in District 16-2A) has done in 2013. But despite the perfect record, nothing has come easy.
“We have to be a more diversified offense," Craig said. "We have to be that way because the bats have deadened it for everybody quite a bit. We bunt and run, we hit and run, we steal -- we do everything you gotta do to create a run.”
And like the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.
“We’re a fundamentally-based program," Craig said. "(Head football coach Chris Edwards) is the same way in football. Every day the first 20 minutes of (football practice), it all starts with the fundamentals. We strongly talk about fundamentals.”
It also helps to have a formidable pitching staff that comes into Tuesday night's game against 16-2A rival Hooks with an ERA of 1.16. The group is led by the 1-2 combination of junior Dylan Moore and senior Zach Bassham.
Moore, a 6-2, 215-pound right-hander, is 9-0 with an 0.91 ERA. He has struck out 66 batters in 46 innings, holding opponents to a .117 average. Bassham, meanwhile, is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 39 innings.
“The first thing about both of them is they compete, they get after your butt," Craig said. "That’s the thing that I like the most about them. We talk all time, ‘we’re either trying to get ahead or we’re trying to get even. We don’t pitch from behind.’ And of both of those kids are able to do that with all three pitches, which helps quite a bit."
Craig said Moore's fastball generally hovers between 85-88 mph, while Bassham relies on changing speeds.
“Dylan has a little more velocity than Bass, but Bass is hard to hit," the coach said. "I don’t even like playing catch with the kid. You can’t see the ball off him. One, it’s difficult to see out of his hand. And two, he has such movement to it. So I can’t even imagine what hitters deal with.”
It creates a rather interesting dilemma for opposing teams.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen his curveball or slider, but they’re pretty dirty," Moore said of Bassham. "It’s especially nice if a team comes out jumping on my fastball, you have him right behind me and he deuces everybody up. It’s good to know.”
Added Bassham: “Dylan’s got a great curveball and a great changeup. I wish I had the changeup he has, and I wish I had the fastball he has. I think it’s all about changing planes and what the hitter sees. When you get the hard fastball and you get the curveball from up to down and then you have the slider from side to side, I think all that plays into it.”
And with some shortcomings at the plate, the exploits of Moore and Bassham on the mound become even more important.
“It’s always a little stressful going into the sixth and you’re only up 2-0," Bassham said. "We’d like to score 10-20 runs a game, which I think anybody would. It definitely gets interesting, it doesn’t really bother us I don’t think. Me and Dylan are strong mentally, and as long as we stay that way, we’ll be alright.”
Hughes Springs has five more games remaining in the regular season before returning to the playoffs, where the Mustangs suffered a shocking series loss to Queen City in the regional quarterfinals last year.
The Mustangs entered that series ranked No. 1 in the state, and began the year ranked behind Queen City in the preseason poll.
“We don’t compete against the polls; they don’t give rings in February," Craig said. "The thing about it is the bunch was very humbled. They had always beaten Queen City in the playoffs, and last year to have Queen City upset them, it kinda humbled them. I didn’t have to do a lot of feeding there. Any time we get a little lax, I just say, ‘is that effort going to beat Queen City?’ And that’s all I had to say."
That method seems to paying off after Hughes Springs defeated Queen City twice in district this season.
"Our coach told us after the second time we beat them, ‘don’t let this be our Super Bowl.’" Bassham said. "If you let one game really get you up, you can kinda get lulled to sleep over then next couple of games. I think it’s good competition, but we’ve got bigger steps ahead.”
And there's still a long way to go.
“Everybody on the team knows there’s things we’ve got to do to step it up for the playoffs, because we’re going to have a lot more competition," Moore said. "Everybody knows, as kind of an unspoken thing, that we just have to keep getting better and better each day.”
And until Hughes Springs fulfills its ultimate goal, the Mustangs will continue to do what they do best: practice.
“I think a state title is motivation enough," Bassham said. "We don’t really need any other motivation besides that. I think ever since we were like 8 years old, it’s been drilled into our heads that there’s always somebody better out there. I believe that every day we come here, we really work to try to get to that goal. That’s all the motivation we need.”