With a sweep of Harris County on Thursday, Hardaway baseball won its first region championship since 2005.
Its Region 1-AAAAA title came on the heels of a last place finish in its subregion last season. Despite their 9-16 record in 2012, the Hawks lost 10 by just a single run. That, along with the return of the majority of its lineup, had coach Chris Gilstrap convinced that 2013 could be a special year.
We preached to the guys that we were literally one pitch, one groundball, one hit away from a 17- or 18-win season, he said. Our kids really got after it starting all the way back in late April last year. We hit the weight room hard, probably the first time weve committed to that year round since Ive been here.
The improved commitment to improvement turned some of those one-run games into wins this season, helping Hardaway to a 21-3 record, 12-2 in the region, this season.
Things just clicked, Gilstrap said.
To win the region, Hardaway survived a close battle with two other teams, Northside and Harris County. Until Thursday, all three teams were locked in a tight battle that could result in any winning the region or finishing in third place.
Theyre both very talented teams, Gilstrap said of Northside and Harris County. I really think the difference in us and everyone else weve played is our pitching.
He said his team got two more quality outings in Thursdays doubleheader.
We got 14 innings of great pitching, and we had another guy on the bench who could have given us seven more, Gilstrap said.
Despite the regular season success, the coach knows how different it will be in the state playoffs, a place nearly his entire team has never been. Only two players were on varsity the last time the Hawks played a playoff game in 2010, and they were both freshmen.
Theyve played big games, but its a little different, he said. Itll be a different atmosphere, for sure. Theyre hungry, though. With the success weve had, theyve got their eyes on one thing. If were lucky enough to get there, well be happy.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.