Although the Keller Fossil Ridge baseball team matched the deepest run in the program’s history, there doesn’t appear to be just one player to credit.
Shortstop Dylan Neuse and pitcher Carlos Tavera have gotten a lot of attention. They arise most often as the most consistent in terms of key plays.
But when it came down to it, the Panthers seemed to be about as team-oriented as any ball club to advance as far as they did.
When pressed, Fossil Ridge head coach Doug Dulany nodded when a list narrowed to four players was suggested as his other standbys, in no particular order: Justin Gordon, Jesse Martin, Max Engels and Isaia Diermier.
The Panthers almost appeared to decide game-to-game which of them will be the one to come up with a key play or clutch hit.
Of course, when you’ve played three playoff series and each one goes to a deciding Game 3, there’s plenty of opportunity to spread the wealth.
Much of the burden fell on the shoulders of Gordon, the No. 2 pitcher behind Tavera. He played third base when not on the mound.
This was Gordon’s first year to pitch on varsity, and he summed up what all the players said of the mode of operation for Ridge.
“We battle and grind out games,” Gordon said.
He also noted that when he’s on the mound, he can’t let bad at-bats carry over to his pitching. “You have to separate the two and have a very short memory,” Gordon said of the plate and mound dichotomy.
Martin, stepping in for the Game 3 starts, said the high stakes don’t impact him any longer.
“I like pitching and my nerves don’t bother me,” Martin said. “After the [Fort Worth] Paschal game, it doesn’t get to me.” Ridge downed Paschal in bi-district in three one-run, extra-innings games.
Grinding out games was echoed by Martin, who admitted there were some games the Panthers shouldn’t have been in but were able to turn the tide in their favor.
So, who would Martin tab as the team MVP?
“It depends on what part of the game you’re talking about,” he said. “Everybody does a pretty good job of doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s a team effort.”
Diermier, the senior left fielder, said he put a rough 2016 behind him.
Diermier hit close to .500 in the playoffs, stepping it up at the plate from his regular-season .300 average.
“I’ve just been blessed with the opportunity to clear my head and play to my ability,” he said.
He said the team knew at the first of the season that this year could be something special, so the playoffs were an awaited opportunity. Fossil Ridge was knocked out of the playoffs in the bi-district round last year.
This year, the Panthers advanced to the regional semifinals, equaling their deepest-ever playoff run, but fell to Southlake Carroll last weekend.
“We knew we had a fighting chance in district,” Diermier said. The Panthers earned co-district champion honors.
Engels, the junior catcher, said team chemistry allowed each of the players to have that opportunity to step up at various moments.
The critical situations were just expected opportunities.
“There’s not any pressure,” Engels said of the need to execute when the game is on the line. “There are big situations but we’re not intimidated and I can do what I know I can do.
“We just compete throughout the whole game, whether it’s seven innings or 13 innings,” Engels said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the print version.