MISSION — The bonds built through battling together on the baseball field can last a lifetime, and for three Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks, it nearly has.
Juniors Evan Maldonado, Angel Nuñez and freshman Juan Rivera’s time as teammates dates back to the days of little league nearly nine years ago. Now, the three Diamondbacks are bringing their chemistry and their game to the highest level of high school baseball, the UIL state tournament.
“It started when we were about 8years old. We had a team called the Broncos. We just balled out together, and now that we’re at the same high school together, going to the state tournament, it’s just something awesome, especially with lifelong friends,” Nuñez said.
While their friendships could very well last a lifetime, Maldonado said they’re more like brothers to each other.
“That goes back to T-ball. Now we’re high school baseball players going to state, so it’s really mind-blowing how far we’ve come,” he said. “It’s been a long time together, so we’re basically like real brothers. We’re like family.”
That family atmosphere doesn’t stop with Rivera, Maldonado and Nuñez. While they’ve spent years playing together in the infield, the chemistry and closeness they’ve built can’t help but spread through the Pioneer dugout and onto the field.
“It’s amazing knowing that we can continue to build this chemistry that we’ve always had, and we can bring it here to our new teammates and play together as a team,” Rivera said.
Maldonado, a utility player and University of Houston commit, is tied for the team-high with 45 RBIs and has a .412 batting average with two home runs and 36 runs scored. He also has a 7-0 record as a pitcher, including four complete games, to go with 63 strikeouts.
Nuñez, the catcher who has been described as the rock of the team, bats .312 and has 15 RBIs. He also boasts a fielding percentage of .985 and has only three errors in 41 games played.
Rivera, who goes by Juanito, Juan Altuve, or simply Juan, might be the smallest player on the diamond for the Diamondbacks at 5 feet, 6 inches, but don’t let the size fool you. He became an everyday starter for Pioneer toward the end of district play and has become the spark plug for the Diamondbacks lineup as the leadoff man. In 18 games, Rivera is hitting .477 and has 15 RBIs to go with his .520 on-base percentage.
“He’s small but he plays like he’s 6 feet, 4 inches,” Maldonado said of Rivera. “He’s one of the best guys on the team and one of the best guys in the Valley, so I wasn’t surprised at all.”
While others may be caught by surprise by Pioneer’s success, the Diamondbacks expected it. It comes from those long hours spent practicing under the Texas sun. It comes from knowing what the player next to them is thinking before it happens. It comes from having their teammates’ back, whether a day one or new teammate.
“The chemistry runs deep, and we’ve known each other for a long time. We know how we all play, we just love to have fun with each other, especially when we’re out on the field just playing catch or something,” Nuñez said. “When it comes to the games, if one of us has a bad at bat, they’re just there to pick us up. It’s something special, this brotherhood that we have. Hopefully it stays for a long time.”
As Sharyland Pioneer gears up to make the journey 331 miles away to take the field at Dell Diamond in Round Rock in the UIL 5A state semifinals, it’s another memory these three Diamondbacks will have for the rest of their lives.
“We have many memories that we can talk about and we’ll have memories that we’ll have together for the rest of our lives, and this will be one of those memories that we’ll hold together,” Rivera said.
The Diamondbacks will face Georgetown (40-4-1) in the semifinals of the 5A state tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. The winner between Pioneer and Georgetown will advance to the state championship game to face the winner between Colleyville Heritage and Corsicana at noon on Saturday at Dell Diamond.