A short drive down Lambert Parkway can reveal a lot about the school’s athletic success in its short yet illustrious history. Along the right side of the road, 12 signs are staked into the ground, 10 of which denote state titles the Longhorns have won since the program began in 2009.
Noticeably absent from this row, however, is mention of Lambert’s baseball team. Two more wins, and that will change.
After sweeping Parkview in the Final Four of the Class AAAAAA tournament, the Longhorns will travel to Milton on Saturday for a best-of-three set that will determine the next state champion.
Lambert, who was eliminated by Milton in last year’s Sweet 16, enters the home stretch with a near-perfect 34-1 record. Though Milton will enjoy home-field advantage, the Eagles have lost seven games on the year and have shown a lot more vulnerability than Lambert has exhibited.
According to the numbers, Lambert holds a distinct advantage over Milton in virtually every facet of the game, but that won’t alter the Longhorns’ approach. After all, the game isn’t played on paper, and Lambert hasn’t forgotten what happened last spring.
"We know we have a big task at hand," head coach Jamie Corr said. "Going over there and playing at their place again, we really know what we’re in for. While we know they’re a good opponent, we also have a sense of confidence because we just left there 12 months ago."
Not much has changed for the Longhorns in those 12 months. Although they lost a few key seniors to graduation, much of their core remains intact.
The difference lies in the defense.
Lambert has made headlines with its power hitting and dominant pitching, but it’s the team’s play in the field that separates them. This went relatively unnoticed during the regular season—when the Longhorns were constantly dominating opponents and the "little things" didn’t stand out—but that has changed in the playoffs.
As parity improves and score differentials shrink, a higher emphasis is placed on what teams do with the leather. While Lambert’s opponents have made some crucial mistakes in this regard throughout the playoffs, the Longhorns have been able to protect leads by avoiding any big errors.
"We’re basically the same guys coming back, and that bodes well confidence wise. I think we’re a lot more sound fundamentally, especially in the defensive end," Corr said. "A lot of our guys are returners on the field, but they’re a year wiser."
This defensive prowess begins and ends with the middle infielders, shortstop Trey Logan and second baseman Eric Furphy.
The duo is in its third season playing together, and they’ve truly hit their stride in 2014. Few players at the high school level are capable of turning doubles plays the way they do, and their lack of errors has aided a pitching staff that, while elite, doesn’t rely heavily on strikeouts.
"It’s nice going out there and knowing what [Logan] is going to do at short," said Furphy. "It’s great having the same person to play with for three years now."
The talent doesn’t begin and end there. Lambert’s regular outfield—comprised of Jeremy Johnson, Tucker Maxwell and Seth Beer—is a fast, reliable group. JD Dutka has been solid at third base, and Chris Cummings has done an admirable job filling in for Dutka when the sidearmer takes the mound.
Sophomore catcher Kyle McCann has grown into his role and has developed a strong report with Lambert’s pitchers. He’s also proven capable of making some big throws around the diamond, most recently gunning out several Parkview runners during the Final Four.
Additionally, first baseman Ian Kimbrell has bailed out his teammates on many occasions with some scoops on errant throws.
This well-rounded defense can be attributed to Corr’s heavy emphasis on fielding. Corr has stated in the past that roughly 70 percent of practice is spent focusing on this area, and all that work has certainly paid off.
"We do a great job in practice of running whole team defenses," said Logan. "We know where the outfielders are going to be, catchers are always making the right throws—we just work together well."
"Defense wins championships," Furphy added. "All we have to do is make the plays."