It's rare - and even seems farfetched - that one team could play in so many state tournaments in such a small period of time.
St. Paul's baseball team is such an exception. The Cardinals will make their fifth straight appearance and go for its sixth state TAPPS title in the TAPPS Class 2A State Baseball Tournament when they take on Colleyville Covenant in the semifinals today at 1 p.m. at Waco ISD Field No. 2.
The Cardinals' streak goes back farther. St. Paul finished as the runner-up in the 1993 Class 1A tournament and has since rattled off at least a Final Four finish in each of the last 11 seasons. The Cardinals captured the 1A title in 1995 and 1999, and the 2A title in 1989, 1998 and 2003.
Coach Sammy Burnett has been at the helm since the Cardinals began their latest streak, but insists the success has little to do with him.
"I put all credit in the kids," Burnett said. "I just try to direct them. It's not something I do. I try to be creative enough. I really feel like it's a blessing. The hardest thing to do is get back. The hardest thing you'll ever do is get back to the top. On your way, everyone will be shooting for you to get there."
While Burnett expects the best competition is yet to come, it's hard to believe there is better out there than what the Cardinals faced in the regional round, where they rallied for a 7-5 win over Faith Academy. Sacred Heart lost in extra innings to District 7-2A champion The Woodlands Christian on Monday night.
If both District 7-2A teams win their semifinal games today, they will face off in the state final on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.
The district rivals split their two-game series during the regular season, with St. Paul winning at home 5-2 behind strong pitching from Nick Loving.
On paper, St. Paul appears to have the experience edge of the four in the tournament. The Cardinals are the only team that has been to the state tournament in the past two seasons.
"We've been in come-from-behinds, neck-and-neck all the way until the end, so we've had ourselves some trials," Burnett said.
St. Paul has also had a tested run in the playoffs, especially on Monday, when three errors in one inning cost the Cards a four-run deficit. They rallied to clinch the state tournament berth, partly because of the experience factor.
"It's real simple. If you've been in those games before, you're calm," Burnett said. "I thought they let their mind lead their body, instead of playing the emotion and getting wrapped up in it."
"The last two years, Waco Texas Christian flat out took us down to the wire," Burnett said of the regional round. "The kids knew it. They've been there before. They weren't worried about those kind of situations in games."
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.