Commentary by Chuck Uzzle

In his four years as head coach of the West Orange Stark baseball team Shea Landry has seen his program have their share of ups and downs. Early on in Landry’s tenure there were some growing pains as the entire baseball culture went through an extreme overhaul. Landry took his squad and decided to instill some old school attitude and work ethic in order to improve their results.

At first it was tough, the cupboard was a little bare when it came to true baseball players but it was fully stocked with athletes who were willing to try and play the game the way it was meant to be played. Along the way there were some excruciating losses that tested the make up of the young Mustangs and their new head coach; looking back they were exactly what was needed in order to mold this current team into the Region III champions they are today.

This year’s team entered the season with an established core of players that had a ton of varsity experience and were picked by many to contend for the district title. The first half of the district season was an absolute nightmare for the Mustangs as they stumbled out of the gate winning only one of their first four games. Then it happened, it all clicked, all of the close calls and tough losses of the past seemed to be a distant memory as the Mustangs reeled off five straight wins and didn’t stop until they took seven of their final nine district games.

Riding a ridiculously deep pitching staff, a solid defense and some timely hitting the Mustangs stormed into the playoffs with something to prove.

As the third place team from Dist. 24-4A the Mustangs got a good draw and made the most of it by sweeping both Splendora and Navasota in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Mustangs dropped one game in each of the next playoff series against Bellville and Carthage only to put both teams away in the deciding game three and earn a spot in the Region III finals.

The fifth round of the playoffs and Region III finals would set a matchup between West Orange Stark and the No. 2 state ranked Huffman Falcons. Coming into the series the Falcons were riding an 18 game winning streak and were poised to make the trip to Austin after losing in the Region finals last season to eventual state champion College Station. Game one of the series saw Huffman hand WOS their worst loss of the season, a 13-2 decision that many believed would spell the end of the Mustangs playoff run.

In typical fashion the Mustangs spent little time feeling sorry for themselves and showed up to Vincent Beck Stadium the next day ready to go to work. Once again it appeared the odds were stacked against the Mustangs as Huffman trotted out an undefeated pitcher who had allowed only two runs for the entire season up to that point. WOS put together some of their best baseball as every button Coach Landry pushed seemed to be exactly right for the situation. The Mustangs took game two and the series momentum with the win and forced a deciding third game.

In the series finale it was more of the same for West Orange as the contributions came from everywhere in the lineup. An outstanding team effort led to a thoroughly convincing 6-0 win and a ticket to the state tournament in Austin. For the first time in over 20 years the Mustangs would return to Austin with a shot at taking home the title. This team that so many had written off earlier in the year had come together and put on a playoff run for the ages and there is still plenty of this story left to be written.

Now many of you are probably wondering why this story isn’t full of stats and individual praise for any certain player, that’s not what this “team” is all about. For weeks they have lived by the “team” concept and that’s exactly how they would like to keep it, nobody stands out and everybody does their job with one ultimate goal in mind. This long process that started four years ago has been a work in progress and for those who really understand the game it has been a pleasure to watch. An entirely new frame of mind has been instilled into this program and the hard work of Coach Landry, his staff, and the players has this team poised for their title shot. This improbable title run has been incredibly special and regardless of how it plays out this “team” will remain just as special.

The Mustangs will face off against El Campo in the semifinals on Wednesday June 10 at 4 pm and hopefully take on the winner of the Argyle vs Abilene Wylie matchup Thursday for the state championship.

The 2015 West Orange-Stark Mustangs are: Seniors; Grant Anderson, Kalen Garrett, Darren Blagburn, Grant Lapoint-Teate, Jermaine Mitchell, Miguel Gobert, Aaron Blagburn, , Aidan Anderson, Austynn Wolfford and Chase Rutledge. Junior; Payton Robertson. Sophomores; Jack Dallas, Ryan Ragsdale and K.J. Miller. Freshman; Chad Dallas.

Photo – West Orange Stark senior catcher Grant Anderson during playoff action that propelled the Mustangs to the state championship baseball tournament on Wednesday. RECORD PHOTO: Meri Elen Jacobs