The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, probably didn't realize how beneficial it was when the organization realigned Faith Academy out of the baseball district with St. Paul and Sacred Heart.
Instead of accepting an appeal by Cougars coach Randy Reed to remain with Sacred Heart and St. Paul and No. 2 The Woodlands Christian, TAPPS kept Faith Academy with lesser competition in District 6-2A.
Faith Academy swept through 6-2A, run-ruling all three opponents twice, while The Woodlands Christian, Sacred Heart and St. Paul fought it out in an up-for-grabs District 7-2A.
The decision to keep Faith Academy in 6-2A appears to have been a good one for TAPPS as all four teams are ranked in the top 10 in the Lone Star Christian small school poll. If Faith Academy would have remained in 7-2A, one of the state-ranked teams would not have even made it to the postseason bracket.
Instead, they will deliver arguably two of the best matchups in the state when The Woodlands Christian faces Sacred Heart and St. Paul will take on the up-and-coming Cougars for state tournament berths.
"If (Faith Academy) was still in the same district, it would have been a knock-down, drag-out," St. Paul coach Sammy Burnett said. "I firmly believe the top four teams in the state are in our district (7-2A) or Victoria Faith. If I were a betting man, I would bet one of the teams from our district in the north bracket and us or Victoria Faith will play in the final."
Burnett knows a lot about the state tournament. His St. Paul Cardinals have reached the 2A championship game the previous four seasons, winning the title in 2003 against Sacred Heart and losing to the Indians in 2001 and 2002.
"We've been there because we've been blessed, period," a candid Burnett said. "I don't put stock in what I did yesterday. I put stock in what I do tomorrow or today. I know they've got talent."
The Cardinals returned five starters from last year's team, but none of them were pitchers. St. Paul still rode the impact hitting and strong pitching of Nick Loving - 42 runs, 25 steals, nine home runs and a .417 batting average - to a 19-5 record. Dagen Hybner, who has racked up 27 runs, 36 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, and Trevor Hybner's 23 RBIs have also guided St. Paul.
"We've been there before and we've been to the state tournament four times in a row, blah, blah, blah," Burnett said. "But that doesn't mean much," he said. "That only means you've been in that situation that if you lose you're done, and you understand the flow of the game and how it works, and how to stay focused mentally. You still have to step out there and play the game."
Based on shear numbers, St. Paul and Faith Academy are the two best base running teams in the Advocate area. Six Cougars have more than 10 stolen bases while St. Paul carries five who are in double digits. St. Paul catcher Derek Kovalcik has thrown out nine straight runners attempting to steal, and both Faith Academy catchers, Daniel Seals and Casey Newman, have displayed an ability to throw out runners.
Both teams carry considerable power and hit for an average well above .300, so the difference between the two teams may come down to a final run, last inning, or even a crucial pitch.
"(Reed) has most of the power," Burnett said. "They have good pitching, good hitting, they run the bases well, and have a lot of enthusiasm. They are very confident. It's going to be what team makes the least mistakes and what teams shows up and performs the best. I imagine it's going to be a dogfight."
NOTES: The winner of the Faith Academy-St. Paul regional matchup will face the winner of the Colleyville Covenant-Abilene Christian regional game in the TAPPS Class 2A state semifinals on Friday at 1 p.m. at Waco ISD Field No. 2. ... Faith Academy is looking for its first win over St. Paul, which is 6-0 in the all-time series.
Dustin Wenzel is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate.
Contact him at 361-580-6508, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.