Fresh off a thrilling finish, St. Pius X’s quest for a 17th baseball state title fell short, while Panthers’ softball ran into a buzz saw. But coaches don’t see the losses as the conclusion of their story – only the start of new chapter.
On the diamond, Head Coach Mike Evans and his squad had momentum on their side entering the regional playoffs, but saw the game slip away late, with seven runs scoring in the game’s latter two frames. Meanwhile, Head Coach Lynn Kercheval and the Lady Panthers were unable to recover from a second-inning onslaught against red-hot St. Agnes Academy.
Kercheval and the Lady Panthers finished the season strong, winning four of their final six regular season contests entering the postseason, and kept the good times rolling with an area-round 4-2 defeat of Dallas Bishop Lynch. However, the machine that is Houston St. Agnes brought the season to screeching halt in 12-1 defeat.
After falling behind 3-0 early, the Panthers nearly knotted the game, but St. Agnes – who sits at 25-7-1 and has dropped just one contest since the beginning of March – used a six-run outburst in the second inning to salt the game away.
In the end, Kercheval said although the results may not have ultimately showed in the win column, 2017-2018 saw a marked competitive improvement, while the chemistry and was nearly unmatched from previous squads. These are the fundamentals of a team on the rise – a new tone has been set.
“I really think we are one year out from contending in our district. The players returning have a far better understanding of what it takes to make an exponential leap to another level, and I think we have grown significantly in that direction,” she said. “As new players come into the program, much needed depth per positions will create a new and greater competition for positions and will guard against a complete overhaul of a starting roster, which has not been the case in the last two years.”
So, while the 2017-2018 campaign may not have finished the way they envisioned, Kercheval and the Panthers look to have the pieces in place to make some noise next season, as they potentially return 12 of 14 players from this year’s playoff roster.
“I see a real chance for the 2019 season being one that has the potential to become memorable and special. The players are hungry,” she said. “They are beginning to see how their work pays off in softball returns, and I think the rising juniors will be strong leaders who truly invest in the outcome of the team, leading by example, voice, and conviction.”
Fresh off a scintillating walk-off victory against Nolan Catholic in the previous round, the Panthers held Liberty Christian mainly in check, as Matt Dilliard held the Warriors to just three runs in the first five innings of play. However, missed opportunities would later come back to haunt the Panthers.
After St. Pius X stranded runners at third base in the 2nd and 3rd innings and left the bases loaded in the 5th, the Warriors finally got the Panther pitching staff, tallying four runs in the 6th and three more in the 7th to bring SPX’s season to an end.
St. Pius X finished Evans’ first season at the helm with a 14-19 overall record, and 6-6 in TAPPS District play, but ultimately fell short of the program’s 21st Final Four appearance and 17th state title. The Panthers graduate 10 seniors, but will have juniors Hunter Pachal, Joseph Aguilar, Austin Bland, Zach Cali, Enrique Trejo and others back next season as they hunt another title for the Panthers’ trophy case.