Spartans’ Santos honored as 8-5A MVP
Going into the meeting to select the District 8-5A baseball team, Centennial coach Brad Hart was certain that his program would walk away with three of the superlative honors.
Junior pitcher Thomas Santos was a lock for Most Valuable Player, senior second baseman Andrew McKenzie was certain to be 8-5A’s Offensive Player of the Year and since the Spartans had won the district title with relative ease, Hart would be the Coach of the Year.
All three held to form as Santos, McKenzie and Hart each garnered those awards from the votes of the district’s coaches.
Considering Santos hit .482 and went 8-1 on the mound with a 1.96 ERA, he was a natural choice for the district MVP, Santos was the top player among a senior and junior laden lineup.
“To me Thomas being MVP was a no-brainer,” Hart said. “He was a unanimous selection. The kid pitched and played shortstop or in the outfield. I think everyone went into the meeting knowing he was going to be the MVP.”
On the mound, Santos made 10 starts and tossed 60.2 innings. He allowed 38 hits, 27 runs (17 unearned runs) and struck out 83 batters. At the plate, the junior collected a team-high 53 hits, hit eight doubles, five triples and two home runs. He drove in 32 runs and scored 19 runs. He slugged .700 and had a .520 on-base percentage.
“He’s a great player because he’s very athletic, coachable, a great competitor and he plays with a lot confidence,” Hart said. “Very seldom do you see him get nervous or up tight, he just goes out and plays, That’s his number one attribute.”
McKenzie moved into the leadoff slot and played second base when Beau Staton went down with an injury. Micah Bennett moved to first base and McKenzie, who played shortstop for the junior varsity last season, became the starter at second base.
It was a role he never gave up and was an easy selection for the coaches as the top offensive player in the 8-5A.
“When we put up his stats, it wasn’t even close,” Hart said. “He had really great numbers and all the coaches remembered him because he was so hard to get out. He struck out once in district and four times during the year.”
In 32 games, McKenzie hit a team-high .511 with a .579 on-base percent and .733 slugging percentage. McKenzie had 46 hits including six doubles, four triples and two home runs. He scored a team-high 32 runs and had 21 RBI.
“When he got into the lineup after Beau Staten’s injury, he just never slowed down,” Hart said,
As for being Coach of the Year, Hart called that a team honor.
“You aren’t coach of the year if you don’t have good players, that do good things,” Hart said. “That’s an all-around honor for the program.”
The Spartans had four first-team players in junior pitcher Payton Strambler, senior shortstop Noah Menchaca, junior outfielder Blake Birdwell and senior designated hitter Jordan Jackson.
Stramber and Santos gave the Spartans a great one-two punch in district play. The junior, who started at catcher when he wasn’t the starter on the mound, went 8-2 in 11 starts with a 1.413 ERA in 69.1 innings. He allowed 49 hits, 19 runs (14 unearned), struck out 81 and walked 22.
“Payton did a great job this season,” Hart said. “I thought he might have a chance to be Pitcher of the Year but that didn’t happen. He worked hard at improving as a pitcher and was much better season. He did hit a lot of batters but that was because as a pitching staff we were working the inside corner more than we have in the last couple of years.”
Menchaca could have been a first-team shortstop or catcher this season. The senior moved from first base to those positions this season. He started at shortstop when Santos pitched and started at catcher with Strambler on the mound.
“He showed his versatility this season,” Hart said. “He made some great plays in the regular season and in the playoffs at both positions.”
For the season, Menchaca hit .311 (.415 OBP and .567 SLG) with team-high’s in doubles (10) and home runs (3). He had 20 RBI and scored 10 runs.
Birdwell’s speed allowed the Spartans outfield to play off the line more and guard the gaps which aided the pitching staff. Hart said the coaching staff was comfortably playing defense that way mainly because Birdwell was in the outfield.
“Blake also pitched and played third base for us during tournament and he did well at both positions, that’s just Blake being Blake,” Hart said. “He’s a quiet competitor.”
Birdwell hit .259 for the Spartans with four doubles and two triples.
Jackson and McKenzie had a similar story this season. Once Jackson, who arrived late to the diamond following the boys basketball teams extended playoff run, found his groove hitting the ball, he was tough to leave out of the lineup.
“When he first got to the team after basketball, he wasn’t in a groove,” Hart said. “I told him to be patient then when he got a chance to play, he made the most of his opportunity like Andruw McKenzie did. That’s what you want, guys who make the most of their chance and don’t give up their spot in the lineup.”
Jackson, who was a varsity starter in football, basketball and baseball, hit .373 (.433 OBP and .508 SLG) in 59 at bats. The senior had five doubles and a home run. He collected 15 RBI and scored 13 runs.
The Spartans produced four second-team players in senior first baseman Micah Bennett, junior third baseman Devin Paz and junior outfielder Adrian Gracia.
Junior outfielder Ethan Quintanilla and freshman pitcher Jacob Meador were honorable mention selections.
Hart termed the season as a “fun year that just ended too early.”
The Spartans claimed their first district title with a record of 13-1 then swept Fort Worth Trimble Tech before getting swept by regional finalist Lake Dallas in the area-round of the playoffs.
Centennial won a school-record 25 games against eight losses.
“We had a lot of talent and most of the guys were pretty coachable,” Hart said. “The guys played hard and we won 15 straight games. Anytime you win 15 games in a row you have accomplished something. You don’t do that without a whole team of players contributing. This team set the bar high for the program. I’m very satisfied and pleased with everything they did.”