Even as the Hays Rebels had their backs against the wall at times this season, head coach James Howard challenged his team to respond.
Doing so helped the Hays Rebels reach the postseason for the second straight year under Howard.
While several key cogs will graduate this summer, Howard is optimistic about next year.
Howard said the program this season had the staff work with players new to the varsity experience. However, Howard said it was “no excuse” for a team expected to reach the postseason every year.
While the Rebels’ goal of a deep playoff run didn’t come to fruition, Howard said his players gained vital experience during the process.
“I felt the guys grew up really quick,” Howard said. “The [pre-district tournament season] went well for us.”
Playing in a challenging 25-6A district provided Hays a chance to grow during the course of a season.
Howard said the staff asked many of this year’s 14 seniors to step up and “fill in some big shoes” this season.
“I’m proud of the guys and their work ethic and determination,” Howard said. “Their attitude was great the entire season.”
A pinnacle moment of the season came when the Rebels scored a series sweep of the Vandegrift Vipers in the program’s final three games of the regular season. Those three wins solidified a playoff berth for the Rebels, which had been in and out of playoff contention during the course of the season.
“The thing I was proud of was they could have easily folded under the stress they were under,” Howard said. “But they didn’t. They got the job done and I was proud of that.”
Focusing on who is projected to return next season is the next step for Howard and the coaching staff.
Returning players include Nick Shimkus, who was a “great defensive player and is real range-y,” Howard said.
The Rebels are also slated to return Andrew and Darren Cisneros, who both had arm issues during the course of the season.
In the infield, Jackson Massey, who had several key base hits during the season, is expected to return at first base, while Drew Cooper could “eat up a lot of innings” on the mound.
“We have a great group of sophomores that will be juniors next year,” Howard said.