- Jeff Miller
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COPPELL, Texas -- As late as the fifth inning, Jacob Morris remained confident.
Morris and the Coppell (Texas) Cowboys baseball team had come through the first 13 games of the 15-game District 6-5A gauntlet undefeated. Not smothering every opponent, mind you, but always finding a way to win.
"We definitely have the firepower to explode in one inning," Morris said. "I kept waiting. Maybe we'll get a couple runs. Maybe we'll get one run."
But the Cowboys were being held in check Saturday, trailing 3-1 to Lewisville (Texas), last in the district.
"Then in the seventh inning, we got two straight outs," Morris lamented, "and I thought we needed a miracle."
That miracle never came. The loss spoiled an unblemished district record for the team that is 20-7-1 overall and ranked No. 6 in Class 5A by the state coaches, highest among Dallas-Fort Worth teams.
As the Cowboys collected their gear afterward for the quiet trip home, they knew the loss also had tangible ramifications.
The return of the Monday Mile.
When Coppell loses a game, the players run a mile before school the following Monday. All the players must complete it in 6:50 or they'll run again on Wednesday. The Cowboys hadn't visited the track at Buddy Echols Stadium since March 16.
This Monday's run was held in the afternoon so it didn't conflict with the week's mandated testing held across the state. They buzzed around the red track, none of them slower than 6:30, before heading back into the nearby field house and straight into the weight room.
"This was the best time they've run as a team all year, which is pretty amazing," coach Don English said. "I think they were maybe fearful on one hand and determined on the other to get back to work. 'Cause Saturday was a tremendous departure from what they've shown up to this point."
The Cowboys will next play on May 11 against Flower Mound (Texas), just one of their worthy opponents in District 6-5A. It's one of a handful of six-team districts, the smallest in 5A, so the baseball teams face each other three times.
Coppell should be among the favorites to advance to the four-team state tournament in Austin from Region I when the playoffs begin next week. The Cowboys boast eight seniors who are headed to play college baseball, six in NCAA Division I.
"When we walk in, everyone knows our name," said Morris, a senior center fielder (hitting .346 with a team-high 31 runs) and an Arizona State signee. "We're the Coppell Cowboys, with six D-I guys. They always play their best against us."
Coppell, located just northeast of D/FW International Airport, has known nothing but winning baseball since the mid-1980s and won the Class 4A state title in 1995. Since moving up to 5A in the 1999-2000 school year, the Cowboys have been halted in the regional semifinals three times, most recently in 2007 at the hands of Lee (Midland, Texas). Last season, the Cowboys lost two one-run games in the regional quarterfinal series to Carroll (Southlake, Texas), now in the same district as Coppell.
Senior third baseman Austin Elkins (hitting .352), who has signed with Dallas Baptist University, reflected on the past two postseasons: "Against Midland Lee, I made a few mistakes. Last year I think I built on those mistakes, but I don't think I performed to the best of my ability in the playoffs. I think those two previous experiences will help me do well in the upcoming playoffs."
"We're not going to be satisfied with a regional semifinal team this year," said senior right-handed pitcher Zak Hermans (6-1, 1.98 and 80 strikeouts in 53 innings), headed for Princeton. "The thing that I'm most excited about is we've had some really tough competition in district. Going into the playoffs, that's going to be a huge key for us."
English arrived at Coppell in 2002-03 already having put together an impressive North Texas high school coaching résumé in 18 total seasons at West Mesquite (Mesquite, Texas), Highland Park (Texas) and Plano East (Plano, Texas).
"In my opinion, it's the best high school job around," he said. "We have as fine of facilities as anywhere: indoor hitting, a turf room, 13,000 square-foot weight room. You've got good kids, great resources and a winning tradition."
Senior catcher Jonathan Walsh leads Coppell with four home runs and 25 RBIs. The University of Texas signee has a fraternal twin on the team, right fielder David Walsh (who signed with Texas-Arlington).
Senior shortstop Chad Kettler leaves no doubt that he's ready for the playoffs to begin.
"It's a lot more energetic. A lot more fans. A lot more noise. It's just a lot more fun," said Kettler, an Oklahoma signee who leads the Cowboys in hitting at .391. "I just try to go out there every year and have fun."
English said he believes his team is coming together at the right time.
"I think the urgency in the playoffs will be a really good thing for us," he said. "Every time we've had to battle and come up with the big inning or a big win, we've had it."
And the Cowboys will try to leave their running to the bases.
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at email@example.com.
After losing their first district game, Coppell (Texas) and its six Division I-bound stars are focused for a run to the postseason.