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Lion baseball driven for playoff return in 16-4A

Long road ahead in difficult district landscape
Coming off the best season in school history where it was only stopped in the playoffs by a state finalist, Lion baseball is going to lay it all on the line for another postseason trip in 2009.
Ennis returns just two seniors and one all-district player, but entering a season with low expectations just isn’t how Lion coach Kevin Kalinec does business. The transition into 16-4A doesn’t make things any easier, even if a fourth team does now remain in the mix after the regular season. According to the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, Waxahachie enters the season as the state’s No. 5-ranked 4A team and Midway is ranked No. 6.
“This district may be one of the toughest in the state,” Kalinec said.
“We’re going to have to compete at our best possible level to have a chance. We know who we have to beat to get in [the playoffs] and that’s who we’ll focus on. We’re a young team that has to grow up in a hurry.”
Kalinec’s main concern is his team’s lack of varsity pitching experience. He doesn’t expect the huge strikeout totals posted by ’08 Lions Weston Montgomery and Chris Lewis to be there for Ennis to lean on this year, so Kalinec is looking for stout defense as he expects opponents to put the ball in play. Offensively, the coach just wants to manufacture runs by any means necessary.
Even with eight departed seniors, Kalinec believes his team will still have good leadership.
“E.J. [LaForge] has really taken on a leadership role and Clayton [Mummert] has become more vocal too,” he said.
“Bronson [Prachyl] and Jordan [Carrillo] also aren’t afraid to speak up [as other seniors on the team]. Nathan [Dixon] and Tyler [Hobbs] are seasoned veterans as juniors with the most varsity experience on our team. Nathan is a really good leader.”
The team has a bevy of new players, including seniors Prachyl, Carrillo, Johnny Gallardo, Nolan Vrana and Marquise Rison. Younger players entering the fray include juniors Trevor Wilhoite and Aaron Armstrong, along with sophomores Chace Durham and Gil Kalinec.

Ballclub components
in focus
Looking to the infield defense, either Kalinec or Armstrong will man third base. Hobbs is making the transition from second base to shortstop. Mummert is now the full-time second baseman after playing there some in 2008. Seth Zhanel returns at first base, while Jon Lewis is back at catcher.
“Clayton and Jon are both much improved on defense,” the coach said.
“Tyler has played shortstop for us before and I think he’s made some strides as well.”
The outfield defense is a bit more of a crapshoot, with a lot of uncertainty heading into the season. Kalinec loves Dixon’s ability in center field, but Dixon won’t always be there as the main option on the mound. It’s all about new faces otherwise.
LaForge will anchor right field, yet he was an infielder in ’08. Other primary outfield options include Carrillo, Prachyl and Durham. Truth be told, the outfield situation will largely be decided by which Lions are getting it done at the plate.
“Time will tell; there’s no varsity experience out there besides Nathan,” Kalinec said.
In the pitching department, Dixon is clearly the team’s top option in Kalinec’s mind, just like the junior is Ennis’ top outfielder. Right now, the No. 2 spot is a tossup between Wilhoite and Lewis. Mummert is No. 4 in the rotation, with Hobbs, LaForge and Kalinec also options on the hill.
“Trevor has probably been the most pleasant surprise on the mound,” Kalinec said.
“As far as hitting goes, I thought we’d be further along than we are now.”
According to the coach, the Lions most consistently making solid contact right now are Hobbs, Mummert and LaForge. As for a player with major upside, Kalinec points to Prachyl due to his boatload of power. The coach said Bronson routinely blasts pitches out of the park in batting practice with ease.
When it comes to baserunning, Kalinec said his team’s overall speed is lacking. He considers Dixon, Hobbs and Mummert the primary threats on the basepaths. He also mentioned that Carrillo and Wilhoite have the necessary wheels to be a factor in that regard.
“We’ll do a lot of hit and run, as well as bunting, to make up for not being the fastest team out there,” Kalinec said.

Dissecting the
Ennis roster
Getting started with the seniors, Jordan Carrillo has the ability to play all three outfield positions with his good range. Kalinec definitely considers baserunning to be Carrillo’s biggest strength at this point.
Senior Johnny Gallardo is new to the program and working hard with the coaching staff to develop his skills. He’ll be an outfield option for the Lions.
Senior E.J. LaForge is the team’s right fielder and he’ll likely bat fourth or fifth. Besides Prachyl, LaForge is Ennis’ other major home run threat.
“E.J. has worked hard to learn the outfield and he’s come a long way,” Kalinec said.
Senior Clayton Mummert will man second base. When it comes to hitting, defense and pitching, Kalinec said Mummert is flat-out getting it done in all phases right now.
“Clayton has made a huge improvement at second base,” the coach said.
“He’s very quick and smooth out there. He pitched on Tuesday and I was impressed with his velocity and command.”
Senior Bronson Prachyl hasn’t played baseball in three years, but Kalinec is glad to have him around. While the outfielder is dealing with throwing arm troubles right now, the coach is optimistic Prachyl will be ready for the season opener next Thursday.
“Bronson can leave the park at any time in any weather conditions,” Kalinec said.
“We’ll have to use him as a pinch hitter until his throwing arm is right.”
Senior Marquise Rison just joined the team on Wednesday. Obviously, Kalinec needs some time with the player before making an evaluation.
Senior Nolan Vrana, a former St. John Crusader, is trying to make the adjustment from TAPPS 1A to UIL 4A, especially at the plate. Kalinec said Vrana could be an option for the team at second base or in the outfield.
As for the team’s juniors, Aaron Armstrong led Ennis with three hits in Tuesday’s scrimmage. He’s an option at third base, but Kalinec said offense is definitely Armstrong’s strong point and he will likely be utilized in a designated hitter role.
Junior center fielder and top pitcher Nathan Dixon is obviously a talented player, because it’s not hard for Kalinec to expand on his abilities.
“Nathan’s an all-around player and one of our best,” the coach said.
“He’s got speed, arm strength and great range in the outfield. I wish we could’ve got him more innings on the mound last year. If we can get Nathan hitting up to his capability, there’s no telling what he can do.”
Junior Tyler Hobbs was a Second Team All-District selection for Ennis in 2008. He’s really come around at the plate and will be the team’s leadoff hitter.
“Tyler is much improved defensively and he just has to be confident at shortstop because so much is required at that position,” the coach said.
“I think that guy will help us a lot.”
Junior Trevor Wilhoite has made his biggest strides on the mound and Kalinec has taken notice.
“Trevor’s worked really hard on his pitching and has been very impressive,” the coach said.
“He’s getting work in the outfield and Trevor is a player with a strong arm and good speed out there.”
Where the youngsters on the team are concerned, sophomore Chace Durham is an interesting Lion for Ennis this year because it looks like he’ll be a definitive utility player. While he’s clearly the No. 2 catcher behind Lewis, Durham has the ability to play several positions and that’s what makes him valuable, according to Kalinec. The coach said Durham’s hitting will improve with more plate appearances at the varsity level.
“It will depend on who’s pitching as to where Chace plays,” Kalinec said.
“The guy can play shortstop, second base, outfield or catcher. It’s great to have a kid that versatile. I’ve never had a need for someone to do all that until now.”
Sophomore Gil Kalinec can be found at third base. The coach said Kalinec should be fine defensively and is working on his range at the position.
“Gil has excellent hitting ability; it’s just a matter of confidence for him,” the coach said.
Sophomore Jon Lewis returns with a lot of varsity games under his belt at catcher. Only this year, Lewis won’t always be back there as one of Ennis’ top pitchers now.
“Jon is swinging the bat well like he did late last year and he’s a strong kid,” Kalinec said.
Last but certainly not least, sophomore Seth Zhanel returns at first base. When Zhanel’s confidence level matches Kalinec’s belief in him, there won’t be any stopping him.
“You’re not going to find many better first basemen,” the coach said.
“Seth was our hottest hitter in the playoffs last year and we’ll certainly need him to get back to that level.”
New Ennis coaches include Kelvin Blank and Rick Batten. Macy Thompson returns for the Lions.
“Coach Blank is doing a wonderful job with our pitchers,” Kalinec said.
“He has the patience you need as a pitching coach. Coach Batten is a young coach with a lot of college playing experience. Coach Thompson just rejoined us and the kids really enjoy having him with us.”

How’s the schedule
looking?
Because of the huge 14-game slate in 16-4A, Ennis has four fewer non-district games this year. The Lions will open the season in the Dallas Bryan Adams Tournament next Thursday.
“The tournament is only day games with absolute time limits, but it’s a chance to play and hopefully our new varsity players will find some early success,” Kalinec said.
Ennis has a road game at Red Oak’s new ballpark and Kalinec is looking forward to that contest.
Hawk assistants Justin Gilbreth and Tate Wallis are Kalinec’s former varsity assistant and Lion player respectively.
“It’s a fun atmosphere in that game because I’m good friends with their whole coaching staff,” Kalinec said.
From there, the Lions will compete in the Mesquite David Crumpton Tournament.
“It’s a very competitive 16-team tournament with a lot of 5A schools,” the coach said.
The Lions will then host their Allen Samuels Autoplex Tournament. New additions to the competitive field include Red Oak and Carrollton R.L. Turner.
Unlike previous seasons, there won’t be a portion of the tourney played in Corsicana. Ennis’ third three-day tournament of the season, it will have two pools that will combine on Saturday.
Just before district play begins, the Lions will face Mesquite at the Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington. The two teams have split the matchup 1-1 in the last-two seasons.
“The kids are looking forward to it and my new coaches are really excited about it,” Kalinec said.
Ennis’ last non-district game actually comes well into the 16-4A schedule when the Lions travel to Seagoville.
As for 16-4A, Kalinec definitely considers Waxahachie, Midway and Midlothian to be the three toughest foes.
“Waxahachie returns Colton Cain and Drew Harrison,” the coach said.
“Both of them throw about 95 mph and nobody is going to score much against them. Those two are also a couple of the better hitters I’ve seen in a long time.
“Midway is just loaded and has a lot of quality pitchers. Midlothian is always pretty talented as well.”
With his eye on one of the four playoff spots, Kalinec has some other opponents on his mind also.
“The Cleburne coach’s son, Ty Taylor, is a quality pitcher and they should be a good opponent,” Kalinec said.
“I would expect Corsicana and Waco High to also challenge us, plus it seems like Waco University always has one good pitcher to trot out there. We’re definitely aiming to grab one of those playoff spots.”
There you have it. A down year isn’t acceptable to the Lion skipper.
“I don’t believe in rebuilding when you have an established program,” he said.
“We’re young, but enthusiastic. I think fans will see a very competitive product on the field.”

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Posted by on Feb 19 2009. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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