On Saturday the Highlanders made the latter one official, clinching their second Class 5A State Championship with a 5-3 victory over Houston-area nemesis Katy at the Dell Diamond.
"At the beginning of the year we were ranked number one in the state, and then a few weeks in we became number one in the nation," senior third baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. "That's a pretty big honor, and thank God we could just go out there and get the state championship.
Fittingly, The Woodlands won the championship on the backs of three senior stars, Kyle Drabek, Steven Maxwell and Goldschmidt.
Drabek's three-run home run in the bottom of the first inning gave the Highlanders an early burst that lasted all seven innings. The line-drive over the left-center fence - his 12th of the year - shook up Katy starter Will Weidig from the get-go.
"After the (Major League Baseball) draft, all I could think about was this game," said the 18th pick by the Philadelphia Phillies. "I guess I played a big part, but Steven also played a big part. He's pitched great the whole year and he's had a lot of complete games."
Maxwell threw all seven innings once again, allowing seven hits and just one earned run along the way with three strikeouts and a walk. The victory allowed him to finish a perfect 14-0 on the season - the same as Drabek -and take home the Spalding Most Valuable Player award.
"I don't think I earned (MVP), but I'll take it," said Maxwell. "Having the run support gave me a lot of confidence. Whenever I have runs behind me, I can feel more confident with my pitches."
Sixth-year head coach Ron Eastman, freshly doused from two water buckets, agreed.
"We've had four really close games in a row coming into this one, and each game we say we'd love to get a lead early to let our pitchers relax a little bit," he said. "To give Steven a 3-0 lead early in the game, that's tremendous."
The Highlanders made it a 4-0 game in the second when Derek Smith drove in Brett Eibner with a two-out single to
The Tigers cut their deficit to 4-1 in the top of the third, as Andrew Stumph's sacrifice fly to right brought in Bret Atwood from third.
Goldschmidt negated that run, however, when he blasted a 410-foot solo home run off the maintenance shed in center field to make it 5-1.
"I hit it good," Goldschmidt said. "When I was running down first I said, 'That has a chance to get out.' I didn't see where it landed, but I heard it hit the top (of the shed), and I was just excited and ran around the bases.
"At the time it wasn't a big deal, but then after (Katy) scrapped together a few runs, it gave us an extra run of insurance."
Katy got a couple lucky bounces in the top of the sixth when Drabek made two uncharacteristic errors at shortstop that helped load the bases with two outs. Carter Jurica capitalized on the mistakes, driving in Nick Barrios and Chase Atwood on a base hit to right that cut the deficit to 5-3.
"(Katy's) been like that through the whole playoffs," Eastman said. "Coach (Tom) McPherson's a great coach and he does a great job with them. They don't quit and we were aware of that coming in."
It was a gratifying conclusion to a 38-1 season for Eastman, who was an assistant for then-head coach Mike McGilvray's championship squad in 2000.
This time around, he said, it feels even better.
"There's no comparison," he said. "In 2000 it was just great to be there under Coach McGilvray. He was a great coach and a great mentor and I learned a lot from him during 2000. We had a great group of guys but this group is equally as great, and you kind of take ownership over your team. They've been working hard, some of these guys for the last three years. They deserve it because they came together as a team like nobody I've really ever seen.
"There's a lot of expectations on us. We've got a lot of talent but we also know that when we get to the playoffs anything can happen. It's very, very gratifying."
Weidig (9-5) suffered the loss for Katy, going 4 2/3 innings of eight-hit ball with five earned runs. Jurica led Katy at the plate with a 2-for-4 effort.
Goldschmidt led The Woodlands at the plate, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run. Schneider also went 2-for-3, while David Alleman, Smith, Drabek, Taylor Grote, Eibner and Brett Parsons all went 1-for-3.
Alleman and Grote also made several key defensive plays from their center and right-field positions, respectively.
The Highlanders formed a massive pile on the infield grass after Parsons made the final out at first base, painting a memorable picture. For all the Highlander players, the season - and the way it ended - won't soon be forgotten.
"It's been a great year," said Drabek. "At the beginning of the playoffs we didn't lose a game and now we're here. We did it. It's been amazing."
Notes: Besides Maxwell, the other Highlanders who made the all-tournament team were Drabek, Goldschmidt, Parsons Taylor Grote and Mickey Armstrong. ...A special celebration honoring the 5A state champion and No. 1 nationally ranked The Woodlands High School varsity baseball team will take place Thursday at Market Street in The Woodlands Town Center. For more information, contact Kim Goldschmidt at (936) 537-3005.
Joel Weckerly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday's Box Score
Class 5A State Championship
The Woodlands 5, Katy 3
Katy 001 002 0 - 3 7 1
The Woodlands 310 010 X - 5 10 2
WP - Steven Maxwell (14-0, 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 Ks, BB, HBP)
LP - Will Weidig (9-5, 4.2 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 2 BB, 3 Ks)
Leading hitters -K: Carter Jurica 2-4 (2 RBI), Bret Atwood 1-3 (run), Andrew Stumph 1-3 (sac, RBI), Chase Atwood 1-1 (run). TW: Kyle Drabek 1-3 (HR, 3 RBI, run), Paul Goldschmidt 2-3 (HR, run, RBI), Derek Smith 1-3 (run, RBI), Brett Eibner 1-3 (run).
Records -Katy (37-9-1), The Woodlands (38-1).
Jurica one-out single up the middle, out at 2B (5-4) on M. Fuda FC
Alleman leadoff walk
Smith walks (mound conference)
Drabek lines 3-run HR over LCF fence (3-0)
Pepitone infield chop single to SS, to 2B on PB, to 3B on Thaler GO
Sauceda FC, Pepitone thrown out at home (6-2)
Eibner singles to RF
Schneider infield single to SS, Eibner to 2B
Smith RBI single to RF scores Eibner from 2B, Schneider to 3B (4-0)
J. Fuda walks
Atwood singles to LF, J.Fuda to 2B
Jurica FC, J. Fuda forced out at 3B, Atwood to 2B
M. Fuda HBP, bases loaded
Stumph sac fly (F-9) scores Atwood, Jurica to 3B (4-1)
Goldschmidt singles to RF, out at 2B on Grote FC (6-4)
Grote out at 2B on Eibner FC to end inning
Sauceda HBP on head w/ one out
Barrios singles to RF, Sauceda to 2B
Parsons leadoff single to RF
Schneider FC bunt, Parsons out at 2B (5-6)
Stumph two-out single up middle
Goldschmidt knocks one-out solo HR off top of storage shed in CF (5-1)
Grote singles up the middle
**Weidig out, freshman Keifer Nuncio in at pitcher**
Grote steals 2B, to 3B on E-1 (pickoff attempt)
Barrios to 1B on E-6 (five-hole)
PH Chase Atwood singles to RF, Barrios to 2B
B. Atwood to 1B on E-6 (bobble), bases loaded w/ two outs
Jurica two-RBI single to RF scores Barrios, C.Atwood, B. Atwood to 3B (5-3)
M. Fuda Ks to end inning
Schneider one-out single up the middle
Alleman singles down LF line, Schneider to 2B
Schneider picked off at 2B on trick play
123, GAME OVER