If you were asked to describe West Orange-Stark’s baseball program before the start of the 2009 season there would be a couple of words come to mind and most of them wouldn’t be good. The one time perennial baseball power had fallen on hard times and was often viewed by other schools as “gimme win” over the past several seasons. The proud history of a program that was built under legendary coach Ronnie Anderson seemed like a fairy tale to those who never saw some of the really good teams of the past. Baseball at WO-S had taken a back seat to football and was rapidly earning the reputation as a stepchild among the schools athletes. Fortunately for those who still wanted to play the game a transformation began to take place last year as then assistant coach Jesse Riojas was promoted to head coach during the season. It wasn’t hard to see that soon things would change.

As a 2000 graduate of LC-M Riojas had played in a winning program and knew that the mindset at WO-S had to change in order for the team to be successful. With a combination of discipline and intensity along with some youthful exuberance Riojas took a team that was widely considered by many to be overmatched in the powerful 21-3A district and started making some noise. After a dismal 2008 campaign that saw the Mustangs go 2 and 17 the only place to go was up. Riojas and his assistant coaches Jimmy Hallman and Shea Landry put together a much improved off season program and hit the ground running 2009. The season started off right as the Mustangs ran the table at the Westlake, La., tournament which included a thrilling 2-1 win over the host team that ended their long unbeaten streak. 

The next stop was WO-S’s own Certa Bearden tournament held at Ronnie Anderson field. The tournament had not been played for several years until Riojas made it a priority to get it back on the schedule. “The Certa Bearden Tournament was always a great event and we want to get some of that pride and history back into our program, this is one way to connect our current players with the tradition of Mustang baseball that was here for so long” said Riojas. The 2009 version of the Certa Bearden tournament was a huge success and will certainly stay on the schedule for years to come.

Once the pre-district season finished up it was time to step on the stage and see what the year would hold for WO-S and what a start it was. A young and talented Silsbee team showed up and an epic game ensued. A 4 hour marathon that lasted until midnight and was won with a straight steal of home in the bottom of the 10th inning as the Mustangs won 9-8. The good feelings didn’t last long as a tough loss on the road to Hamshire-Fannett and then a home loss to a very talented Bridge City team seemed to doom the Mustangs for any shot at a playoff. WO-S bounced back with a win at Hardin-Jefferson and took another home loss to Orangefield as they completed the first half of district play at 2-3.

Under most circumstances the 2-3 record would be cause for panic but in the tough 21-3A district WO-S was right in the middle of the hunt. 2 consecutive wins against Silsbee and Hamshire Fannett put WO-S in the thick of the playoff hunt at 4-3 and in a three-way tie for second place. A tough loss to Bridge City evened their record at 4-4 and looked to set up a showdown with Orangefield, only problem was the Mustangs still had to play Hardin-Jefferson who had yet to win a district game. You guessed it; H-J tripped up the Mustangs in extra innings and dropped them to 4th place in the standings. Now WO-S would need to beat Orangefield to force a playoff for the final spot to represent the district.

A packed house awaited both teams at Orangefield High School on Friday night and it was a playoff atmosphere all the way.

Unfortunately for WO-S they came up short as the Bobcats took the game 5-3 and the last playoff spot ending WO-S’s season. The final tally for the year saw the Mustangs go 11-13 overall and 4-6 in district which was a monumental improvement from last year to say the least. There is no doubt that the West Orange-Stark baseball program is now in good hands and should be that way for some time. The spark and enthusiasm that Riojas and his staff have brought to a program that many had given up on is a testament to hard work and a belief that it can be done. This years Mustang baseball team did more with less than anybody could have ever imagined. This season may be one that Coach Riojas, Hallman and Landry can look back on and say “That’s where it all started.”