Sharyland Pioneer baseball program reaching new heights

Sharyland Pioneer's Johnny Lugo (3) connects with the ball during a home run hit in the third inning against Rio Grande City in a regional quarter finals playoff series game 3 at Mission High School on Leo Najo Field on Saturday, May 18, 2019, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

MISSION — Wins were hard to come by during Sharyland Pioneer’s first three years, never qualifying for the playoffs. The past two seasons the Diamondbacks (33-8, 11-3) have made the playoffs.

Sharyland Pioneer enters the Region IV-5A semifinals as one of the last 16 teams competing for a UIL state championship.

“This run means a lot because we come from having a one-win season (in district in 2016) to 30-plus now,” senior Jacob Rosales said. “We’re making history with every win and it’s an exciting feeling.”

Rosales, a four-year letterman, drove home three runs during Pioneer’s three-game regional quarterfinals series against Rio Grande City. He is batting .376 and has a team-high 38 runs, 26 RBIs and is 41 for 41 in stolen bases.

Evan Maldonado, a junior and University of Houston commit, is 6-0 as a starting pitcher with a 1.58 ERA and is averaging .412 at the plate with 38 RBIs. He said he’s proud people will be able to look back on the history this team has made.

“It feels special making history, to be the first team to go this far in the playoffs,” Maldonado said.

It’s no coincidence that the program’s new-found success coincides with the arrival of second-year coach Casey Smith.

Last season, Smith coached Pioneer into the playoffs for the first time, finishing 24-13-1 with a win in the bi-district round before falling in area. This year, the Diamondbacks have been one of the top teams in the Rio Grande Valley.

“These guys are tough, man. We don’t quit. We haven’t quit all year long and we aren’t about to now,” Smith said after the Diamondbacks’ third-round win over Rio Grande City. “As far as the excitement, it’s just unbelievable for these kids. It’s a neat thing for them and it’s a neat thing for our fans (for us) to still be playing.”

The Diamondbacks are one of two Rio Grande Valley baseball teams still playing in May as Pioneer’s sister school and 31-5A rival, Sharyland High, is also in the Sweet 16.

“It’s neat for Sharyland because they went over there and won, too. So we got two schools left in the Sweet 16 from our ISD and that’s pretty cool,” Smith said.

The Diamondbacks will face the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s No. 2-ranked, Class 5A team, Boerne-Champion.

It’s familiar territory for Pioneer, however, as the Diamondbacks have already faced, and knocked off, then-ranked No. 2 Corpus Christi Veterans in three games in the second round of the playoffs.

“We just came out fighting,” senior outfielder and pitcher Johnny Lugo said about the team’s win over C.C. Veterans.

Lugo, who has a .358 average with a team-high 42 RBIs as a batter, and 9-2 record and 1.31 ERA as a pitcher, believes the ranking is just a number.

“We’ve really improved these past two years in our mental game. It’s like our coaches say, ‘They put on their pants the same way we do.’ Whoever fights stronger and harder is going to come out on top,” he said.

Sharyland Pioneer opens its three-game series against No. 2 Boerne-Champion (34-5, 16-0) at 7 p.m. Friday. Game 2 is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, with Game 3 to follow 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2, if necessary. All three games will be played at Uni-Trade Stadium in Laredo.