The Comets baseball team won the American Southwest Conference for the first time in the program’s history, making it to the Division III Regional Tournament and ending their year with a 32-17 record.
While the Comets have gone to the ASC tournament playoffs 15 out of their 17 years and into the finals six times, this season marks their first victory. As a result of their performance, several players garnered regional and national awards, but many of those players are also graduating seniors.
“This year’s team was the team that lost in the conference tournament the year before and most of those guys were back, so they were hungry and they wanted a chance to go out and win it,” the head coach Shane Shewmake said.
The Comets’ season started out with four straight losses, but the team rallied with a long winning streak. The rest of the season followed that formula, with the Comets winning several games in a row, losing a couple, and then getting back to their winning streak. Their consistent wins led them to the championship tournament, where they won every game.
This was the Comet’s second time breaking out of the ASC, having previously been chosen as a wildcard, but their sophomore run was cut short after tying at the Spokane tournament and losing two out of three games to Texas Lutheran University.
“(Texas Lutheran University) ended up winning our regional and actually playing for the national championship so we were right there close and you know if we got a couple breaks here and there we could’ve ended up winning that tournament,” Shewmake said. “We competed really well and I was really proud of them. They never quit and played it all the way through to the end.”
This year, five players received All-Region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association. The All-Region honors such as the All-American distinction create a hypothetical all-star team that includes the season’s best players. Senior first baseman Barry Casey received both an All-Region honor as well as his second All-American honor, having received the first in 2017. He ended the season with a .435 RBI and scored 48 runs over the year’s 49 games.
The majority of the team’s starters will be departing this summer as 16 players are graduating seniors, including three of the five honors winners. The Comets’ ability to replace this seasoned team will determine their fate in 2019. Shewmake said new players and current juniors and sophomores will step into the vacancies.
“Obviously you’re recruiting every year, and you have some guys who were on the roster that were playing behind those seniors that are going to get their opportunity to step up and make a difference next year,” Shewmake said. “Our goal as a coaching staff is always to keep playing at a high level so our hope is that we don’t miss a beat, and we’re competing for a championship again next year.”
Next year, the team may face better-funded and higher-skilled teams if UTD moves into NCAA Division II. The university announced its intent in March to consider moving to Division II, but has not yet made a decision. A division change would not only mean competing against higher rated teams with existing sports scholarships, but would also ban all UTD teams from championship tournaments during a three-year probationary period.
Shewmake said that although he’s pleased with the championship win, he finds it most rewarding to see the players’ hard work pay off.
“We’ve had some good teams along the way that have fell just one game short in the past, we’ve been close, and we’ve had some really good teams, and this team was able to find a way to win that last one and get the championship,” he said. “Maintaining all of (their schoolwork) and to have them have the success…the rewarding part is seeing all the hard work pay off for those guys.”