RED OAK — Red Oak High School rode a wave of baseball success to a No. 25 state ranking and the No. 1 position in District 10-5A and then fought the undertow to nearly reaching the playoffs for the first time in two years.
The Hawks' reward was the opportunity to go down swinging on their terms and the pair of names added to the 38-player and one-coach All-District list Monday.
Of the 38 names honored as some of the best 5A talents in Texas, 14 came within the borders of Ellis County. Erik Gipson and Chase Jennings represented the city of Red Oak.
"Making the All-District team with Chase was a blessing — especially considering the ridiculous amount of talent we have in our district," Gipson said. "Chase and I had the goal at the beginning of the season to go out every outing and compete. I think we did that pretty well."
Gipson, who will join former Waxahachie Indian Garrett Penny at East Texas Baptist University in the fall, claimed a place on the All-District second team. Gipson also solidified his position as the district's third best pitcher behind Midlothian High School's Russell Smith and Waxahachie High School's Levi David — the 10-5A Pitcher of the Year and MVP.
Mansfield Lake Ridge's Austin Roth, Mansfield Legacy's Ryan Hill, Mansfield Summit's Noah Lynch and Mansfield Timberview's Dakoda Newman each threw their bid into the pot to complete the district's triumvirate. Gipson, however, was the next in range of David or Smith after turning in a 2.60-ERA, 40-strikeout and 15-walk district run. He allowed 19 runs on 36 hits in 39 innings.
Jennings, the Hawks' No. 2 hurler, was right behind his rotational mate after playing the role of Red Oak's mount workhorse. While pitching 31 innings in 10 games and operating from everything from a starting arm to a middle reliever to a spot closer, he posted a 2.60 ERA, fanned 28 batters, walked only nine and allowed 16 runs on 33 hits.
Those numbers came despite missing a handful of games because of mandatory meetings, training, testing and workouts required for service in the United States Marine Corps.
"The selection was very surprising to me because I felt I had pitched good all year, but could have been a lot better. Some challenges that kind of knocked off that rhythm occurred when I ha to miss some games because of the Marine Corps," Jennings said. "I missed some key games that were fought hard by my teammates and I wasn't there to cheer them on or pitch for them. I felt as if I didn't get in as much time for pitching as I would have liked because of the training but, we worked hard for our goal and we achieved it despite not getting into playoffs. Making All-District was something Erik and I had set for ourselves and we wanted to go out and compete against everyone we saw. Going back and thinking of how this season progressed, I'm blessed to have the year end the way it did for Erik and I."
He ships out July 24 to embark on 13 weeks of discipline-instilling re-adjustment in San Diego, California's Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton that culminates in the Crucible — more than 54 hours of food and sleep deprivation and over 45 miles of marching.
With possibly the biggest challenge of his life laying before him, Jennings helped Red Oak first stop a four-game skid. Ending the streak that started with a 3-2 loss to Mansfield Timberview and ended with a 5-0 win against Lancaster helped the Hawks challenge for the fourth and final postseason slot after beating Mansfield Lake Ridge 6-3 in game one of a playoff play-in series.
And still, with newly-minted selections in their proverbial pockets and paths to futures ahead of them, both boys defaulted to their teammates, noting other players that could have easily made the All-District list from their insider perspective.
"Ronnie (Iracheta) was a key closer for us," Jennings said about the Hawks' near lights-out finisher. "Without him, some games would have gone in the opposite direction. Alec (Loera) belongs in the conversation, too. I could always count on him to make the plays behind me and he was absolutely one of our better hitters. That's important when it comes to how you get through tougher innings."
Iracheta, a senior that will play baseball for Mountain View College in the fall, won two of his three game-winning opportunities and earned a team-leading three saves. He also had 27 strikeouts in 27 innings and eight walks and 17 runs allowed on 25 hits.
Loera's .247 batting average was seventh best on the Hawks' roster and his 19 hits were fifth behind sophomore Bryant Bailey, senior Lance Milke, senior Brady Faulkner and junior Jordan Trotter.
"We were grateful enough to have [Ronnie] in our arsenal and I think that Alec is one of the ones that should have made the list," Gipson added. "He was an absolute vacuum on the defensive side and one of our best hitters. But there are so many more that made our team go that earned their recognition, too. Brandon (Gipson), Bryant, Brady, Lance and Trot were just some of the men that made this team special in ways people outside of the city of Red Oak may not see at first glance."
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI