SHINER -- Quality pitching goes a long way in baseball.
From left, Brady Cejka, Ky Sandelovic, Zach Reese and Jacob Stafford give the Shiner baseball team pitching depth envied by many of their opponents. All four pitchers have participated in no-hitters this season. photo by Jason Chlapek
It certainly has been one of the hallmarks for the Shiner baseball team this season. The Comanches not only have quality pitching, but also a quantity as they have four players who can take the mound at any time.
"It doesn’t matter who starts on the mound," senior pitcher Ky Sandelovic said. "We can all get the job done when called on to pitch."
Sandelovic, fellow senior Zach Reese, junior Brady Cejka and sophomore Jacob Stafford have given Shiner (22-7) pitching depth necessary to be competitive throughout the season, including the playoffs. Pitching will come into play this weekend as the Comanches are currently involved in a best-of-three Class A region semifinal series against D’Hanis.
Shiner and D’Hanis competed in Game One of their series Thursday at Converse Judson, but the results were unavailable at press time. Game Two takes place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Judson with a third game to follow if necessary.
All four pitchers have participated in a no-hitter this season as well. Reese threw a no-hitter in the Comanches’ 12-0 win over Milano March 15 in the La Grange Tournament, while Cejka and Stafford combined to no-hit Moulton March 23 in a 24-0 rout of the Bobkatz in Moulton, and Sandelovic recorded his no-hitter in Shiner’s 5-0 area-round victory over Bartlett March 12 in La Grange.
"It was fun to throw a no-hitter," Reese said. "But our defense really got the no- hitter. Our defense is solid."
When they’re not pitching, all four players have a position on the field. Sandelovic plays third base when not on the mound, while Reese catches, Cejka plays shortstop and Stafford is the right fielder.
"I’m a shortstop first, but I pitch when my team needs me to do so," Cejka said. "I strive on defense and take pride in my defense. My main goal is to get outs."
Cejka is the No. 4 pitcher in the rotation, but has made his presence felt on defense. He made several bare-handed catch-and-throws this season, and has turned several double-plays as well.
The Comanches have used just Reese and Sandelovic on the mound in the postseason. Shiner had a bye in the bi-district round, while Sandelovic pitched in the area-round win over Bartlett and Game One of last week’s best-of-three series against Thrall, and Reese threw in Game Two against Thrall.
"It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t had to throw in the playoffs yet," Stafford said. "But I’ll be ready when I have to."
Stafford saw time in a trio of playoff games last season as a relief pitcher. He is No. 3 in the rotation.
Sandelovic began pitching when he was seven. He said developing as a pitcher was a work in progress.
"I told my dad I wanted to pitch so we worked on mechanics, timing and wind ups," Sandelovic said. "I didn’t start throwing curveballs until I was 13. My favorite thing about pitching is having the game on my shoulders, and having a big part in the outcome."
Sandelovic wants one thing this season -- a state championship. He has plenty of motivation to help the Comanches win their first state crown since 2004.
"My brother, Brady Strauss, won state championships in 2002 and 2004," Sandelovic said. "I can’t let him out-do me too much."
Sandelovic also hopes to pitch in college. He plans to try out for numerous schools, including Blinn College, Texas A&M-Kingsville and the University of Houston-Victoria.
Reese also plans to try out for a college baseball team either as a catcher or a pitcher. Like Sandelovic, Reese plans to try out for several schools, most notably Blinn and UHV.
"It would be cool to play on the same team as Ky," Reese said. "We’ve played together for so long."
Reese started pitching at an early age as well, and pitched for his select baseball teams. He was moved to catcher when he entered the ranks at Shiner, and decided to enter the pitching rotation this season as well.
"When Ky got sick earlier this season, I decided to help the team out by pitching some," Reese said. "I’ll play where needed. Baseball is second nature to me."
In addition to being No. 2 in the pitching rotation, Reese also bats No. 3 in the lineup, and is among the team leaders in doubles and RBIs. To him, hitting is more reaction than thinking.
"I always try to react to the ball," Reese said. "It’s all muscle-memory. I hit better when I react and don’t think."
Reese and Sandelovic are two of seven seniors on the Shiner roster. The Comanches were a win shy of the state tournament a year ago as they lost to eventual state champion Johnson City in three games in a region final series.
"This is our last shot," Sandelovic said. "We have a great team and we’ve worked hard all season. We want to win it all."
Stafford, like Sandelovic, has older siblings who participated in athletics at Shiner. His older brother, Drew, was a 2010 graduate who played football and baseball for the Comanches.
"Drew taught me how to play the game and also emphasized that baseball is just a game and to have fun," Stafford said.
Stafford’s older sister, Cassie, participated in cross country, softball, track and field and volleyball for the Lady Comanches. Cassie graduates tonight, and will attend Tarleton State -- the same school Drew attends.
While Stafford enjoys baseball, his first love is football. He is the starting quarterback and middle linebacker for Shiner.
"I love football," Stafford said. "I love the contact and everything else that comes with it."
Stafford plans to attend a few football camps this summer. He’s considering the camps at Midwestern State, TCU and the Naval Academy.
As for right now, Stafford’s main concern is baseball. He enjoys being a part of his team.
"We’re one big family," Stafford said. "We’re not seniors, juniors and sophomores, we’re all a team. We enjoy being around each other."
Cejka also had his take on the Comanches’ team chemistry.
"We work well together," Cejka said. "We work hard and make plays. We enjoy playing baseball and coming out of games victorious."
Cejka, like Stafford, plays football. He is the starting free safety for the Shiner football team.
Baseball has three components -- pitching, hitting and defense. Reese believes doing two of the three well is mandatory for the Comanches to win.
"If we have two of the three going, we’ll be fine," Reese said. "If we have all three going, we’re unbeatable."
And they’ll go a long way.