McALLEN — When the McAllen High baseball team got back from Laredo, coach Eliseo Pompa gathered the team and recited a quote he had recently received from a friend.
“Don’t cry because you lost,” it read. “Smile because of what you have accomplished.”
“It kind of perked the team up a little bit,” Pompa said.
The team was still smarting from a loss to SA Churchill in the Class 6A Region IV semifinals, but Pompa wanted to make sure the kids left on a positive note.
Pompa’s season was not just defined by the success his team had on the field, it was also defined by the potential pitfalls he avoided and the tweaks he made along the way. For his role in guiding the Bulldogs this season, Eliseo Pompa is The Monitor’s 2017 All-Area Coach of the Year.
“It’s an honor,” Pompa said. “You put in a lot of hours. We have been at it since August. Basically almost year-round. It means the hard work has paid off, not only for me as a coach, but for the kids. They have accomplished something. The team had a good record. We went a little bit further than anyone else in the playoffs. It’s a good accomplishment.”
Pompa’s decision on how to utilize freshman phenom Aaron Nixon was vital to the success of the Bulldogs. Nixon came into the program with a lot of hype, having committed to the University of Texas before he had even played one inning for Pompa. Many coaches would have rushed Nixon into the ace role and had him pile up innings from the beginning, but Pompa took a patient approach that paid dividends down the stretch.
“He had competed everywhere at a younger age,” Pompa said. “When you start playing high school ball it’s a little different. We kind of tried to bring him on a little bit slowly. Not to hurry too much. His role was set even before the season started. He already knew that he would come in at the 6th or 7th inning and be the closer. Fortunately for us, we had a good pitching staff so we didn’t have to use him so much.”
It allowed Nixon to easily transition into high school ball and it was easier on his arm, which should be a valuable weapon for the Bulldogs for the next three years. The move paid off in the Bulldogs’ playoff run. Nixon was still fresh and bringing him into the game late all but assured McHi a win. He was dominant in short stints and rarely even gave up a hit.
In a similar move, Pompa knew transfer Abanny Garcia had the skill to be his ace and he made the decision quickly to put him into that role. Garcia flourished at the top of the rotation, pitching 35.1 innings and posting a 1.39 ERA with 60 strikeouts.
Pompa also helped several seniors take big steps forward in their final year. Ramiro Maldonado, Roy Quintanilla and Keola Zamora all had breakout years that propelled the Bulldogs to a district title and a playoff run that saw the Bulldogs last longer than any other Valley team.
“That comes from their work ethic,” Pompa said. “They sacrificed a lot of their time. A lot of these kids played in travel teams the whole year. They played summer ball, they played fall ball. They took an extra 20 cuts, an extra dozen ground balls. They did a lot of things extra. They used to come out after we did our workouts in the weight room on Saturday. Not required, but half of them would come up and hit the ball. It’s things like that, you can tell. It’s the kids that were very successful. It was just the extra work that they did that paid off for them and for our team.”
Pompa has already turned his focus to next season’s team.
“It’s good on paper,” Pompa said. “I’m overjoyed that we have a lot of those kids back. Every year is different and we do have some good freshman coming in and the thing is that the younger kids they have to look at the older kids and they have to mimic what they do, especially in our workouts. So it’s good on paper, but you still have to do it between the lines.”