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Depending on how you look at it, the improve-ment in the Sweetwater baseball program the past two years has been either modest or significant.
The half-full view says that the Mustangs â who start their season Tuesday by hosting San Angelo Lake View at 6:30 p.m. â won six times as many district games as in 2007 and â08 combined. However, Sweetwaterâs district rec-ord was still just 3-7 in both â09 and â10.
But there is good reason to believe that 2011 will be the breakthrough season that leads to a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Sweetwater returns 12 lettermen, including eight seniors and its three top starting pitchers, from a team that was just a few plays away from being a serious contender.
Seven returnees â pitcher-outfielder Kris Mayes, outfielders Tan-ner Crain and Ryan Linebaugh, third baseman Connor Stafford, catcher Sean Morrow, shortstop Sterling Reeves and pitcher-infielder Cameron Fox â earned all-district or all-area recognition.
Mayes, a two-time all-district player, heads the pitching staff and Fox and Larry Daniel were the other starters in district play a year ago. All three are seniors, as are Crain, Stafford and Reeves. Both Linebaugh and Morrow are sophomores.
Sweetwaterâs other re-turning varsity players are seniors Austin Burt and Brett Rivera and juniors Gabriel Medellin and Parker Scott.
Third-year head coach Roland Herrera also plans to look at several younger players on the varsity this season. With over 30 individuals participating in the early workouts and scrimmages, he has plenty to choose from.
âThe thing Iâm trying to establish is competition,â he said.
âThere are a number of people that I could put out there and not be scared. We havenât had that since Iâve been here.â
But despite having that nice combination of experience and promising young talent, making the playoffs in District 5-3A â a brutal district that also includes Brownwood, Wylie, Snyder and Big Spring â will be a major accomplishment.
âWeâve got a tough schedule,â Herrera said. âSo itâs not going to be easy by any means. Weâre going to have to buckle down and get after it. But our expectation is to be better. We let some games get away last year, and our kids donât want that to happen any more.â