80° F Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stacked with strong bats, the Westlake baseball team is hoping to power its way deep into the playoffs.

The Chaparrals are armed with a slew of sluggers that could go deep in any at bat, led by seniors Aaron Black, Zach Suarez and Alex Cabezas.

“Everyone on this team can hit; It’ll take us far,” Black said.

Black already has five homers on the season. Junior Bennett Huddleston has three while Cabezas, Wes Nichol and Suarez have gone deep already.

Four guys have compiled 10 or more RBIs in the Chaps’ 12 games – Nichol, Black, Huddleston and Cabezas.

“It feels good everyone is hitting the ball up and down the lineup,” Cabezas said.

The team has some strong arms on the mound as well, but in the early going, the third facet – defense – has been the weak spot for Westlake, something they hope will be curbed as the season progresses.

Juniors Tate Shaw and Cory Takenaka bring a boost to the lineup and the team’s defense, while seniors Carson Spencer, Landon Lau and Dylan Black are looking good so far.

Junior Paul Kirkpatrick has shown an array of solid pitches, while the team feels good about its staff with Duncan Brown, Ryan Cunningham, William Zwiener, Shaw, Gordy Taylor, Nichol, Spencer, Takenaka, Sam Koenig and Jacob Lentz ready to take the ball. Other than Kirkpatrick throwing the district opener, nothing has been solidified yet.

“We’ve got a good core of guys that will step up and be starters,” Westlake coach Jeff Montgomery said. “I think we’ve got a good group of guys. It’s always good to find that third guy; ‘who is that going to be?’ We’ve got a lot of guys who can step in a shut a game down.”

Last season, the team was knocked out of the playoffs earlier than expected – getting bounced in the first round. This season, the returning bulk of the lineup has the team loose on and off the field thanks to that continuity.

“We’re hoping we can get pretty far in the playoffs,” Aaron Black said. “I didn’t know we’d be this good … Honestly, we can go really far. We’ve got great pitching, pretty good defense and really good hitters.”

Currently nursing an injury, starting third baseman Gordy Taylor brings veteran leadership with a do-whatever-it-takes attitude. Aaron Black. Shaw, Suarez and Cabezas join Taylor as Chaps who started last season while several others got some time at the top level. Behind the plate, Suarez and Huddleston will see some time as the Chaps utilize their depth.

“Right now, we’re trying to find some roles,” Montgomery said. “It’s really important to throw kids out there right now [during tournaments]. Some can react well, and some are figuring things.”

The first-year head coach said that offseason weight training, employing things such as kettle bells instead of traditional routines, has paid big dividends for the team.

“We had great weight workouts this year, a lot of kids buying in,” he said. “They’re getting a lot more functionally strong. I’m really excited, and I’m happy for them, too. It’s one of those hard work pays off type things for them.”

The non-baseball activity was vital during the offseason as well, Cabezas said.

“We got real close – unity has been a big thing this year,” he said. “We’re kind of like a family.You can’t really put a thing on it because I think we’re just going to keep getting better. We’re all just playing for each other right now.”

Over the weekend, Westlake (7-5) went 2-4 during the Langerhans Invitational.

The Chaps’ bats were potent in every game, but the little things kept them from more wins as the team played in two one-run games and three two-run games.

The highlight of the tournament was Westlake’s walloping of Belton Friday afternoon as Kirkpatrick picked up the win.

Three Chaps hit homers in the 17-5 onslaught, with Kirkpatrick allowing just three earned runs and striking out five in five innings.

Cabezas went 3-for-3 with five RBIs in the win with a double and a homerun, Aaron Black had a homer and three RBIs, and Huddleston had four RBIs, including three on his game-ending homer in the fifth.

The Chaps started the tournament with a close 9-7 loss to Westwood as the two sides combined for seven errors, but Westlake bounced back to beat Lewisville 8-7 behind homers from Nichol and Huddleston Feb. 28. The next day, Westlake beat Belton but lost to Fossil Ridge 6-4. On the last day of the tourney, the Chaps lost 7-6 to SA Central and 6-4 to MacArthur.

“We had some let downs here and there,” Montgomery said. “When our pitchers start learning the importance of location, location, location, figure out how important that is and trust their pitches, and their coaches and their catchers … That’s just a work in progress as the year progresses.”

Westlake goes to the Calallen Wildcat Classic March 7-9.

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