With three starting pitchers back from a squad that reached the UIL Class 6A state final, Arlington Martin isn’t just on everyone’s baseball radar; they’re a large blip on that screen.
“Well there’s no way we’re going to fly under the radar, that’s for sure,” said Martin coach Curt Culbertson, whose team went 28-6 in 2015. “But aside from the pitching and just two of our regulars from last season, this team is totally new, young and new.”
Having LSU signee Eric Walker back, as well as Connor Lidiak and Abilene Christian signee Nick Skeffington, gives Martin perhaps the strongest pitching rotation and head start on the bullpen of any area team.
“It’s certainly nice to have those guys when you have as much inexperience on defense as we do,” Culbertson said. “But with those arms, it gives us a chance to settle in on defense and we’re just kind of finding our way through it right now.”
The arms consist of Walker’s near-90 mph fastball and a mix of breaking and off-speed pitches that helped him to a 14-0 record last season and a 0.67 ERA.
He gave up two runs in the Warriors’ state semifinal 3-2 win over Laredo Alexander.
With Culbertson having Walker pitch the semifinal, Skeffington (6-1) got the ball for the title game against Houston Cypress Ranch. He had strong outings in back-to-back Game 3 wins over Southlake Carroll and Keller in the regional semifinals and finals.
Skeffington and Lidiak scattered just three runs and seven hits, but Martin’s powerful offense went silent in the 3-0 loss.
Abilene Christian came calling on Skeffington after that. Although Lidiak remains unsigned at this point, Culbertson said that will clear up quickly.
Lidiak started three straight Game 1s in the playoffs, winning all three and running his season record to 7-2 with a 2.69 ERA and 47 strikeouts.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that Connor was out for almost half the season with injury, so when he got back on the mound, he didn’t miss a beat,” Culbertson said.
Martin’s offense, though, is where ground will need to be made up.
As a team, Martin hit .324 with 73 extra base hits and 214 runs scored.
Gone, though, is Josh Watson (now the starting left fielder at TCU), who hit .491 with a .964 slugging percentage and 28 RBIs.
By comparison, returning third baseman Tristen Lutz was fourth on the team in hitting at .323 with four homers and 35 RBIs.
Josh Avery also returns after hitting .288 with 14 RBIs.
“Been a little tough for this team because there is so much light on them, but not as much experience,” Culbertson said. “It’s going to take this team a little time to jell together, but they’ve worked extremely hard and we have to manage expectations.
“Everybody is gunning for you but we have to have guys that are not worried so much about themselves but how they can help this team. It’s a process for younger players to learn how to play team baseball at this level.”