LITTLE ELM – When the Little Elm baseball team started the season 0-6-2, there wasn’t any panic in the Lobos.
Not even as Little Elm began its first season playing in Class 6A.
Head coach Matt Harbin knew that he had a young team.
Although the Lobos start four seniors, Little Elm has inexperience at other positions on the field, all of whom are working hard to gain varsity experience.
The Lobos have five starters who are underclassmen, including freshman shortstop Dylan Terry and sophomore first baseman Irvin Leonard.
Last year, Harbin tried to get his underclassmen adjusted to the varsity game, but the pandemic forced the last half of the season to be cancelled.
Fast forward to this year, when the Lobos started this season winless through their first eight games – five by at least seven runs – Harbin said that his players became a sponge during practice.
“We’ve got guys that are learning,” he said. “Each day, we’re trying to pick something apart that maybe we didn’t do very well and we worked on it.”
One area that Harbin said that his Lobos have shown improvement is on defense.
In Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to Class 6A’s No. 6 Prosper, according to the latest Diamond Pro/THSB Top 25 state poll, Little Elm’s fielders got under several fly balls that were hit the Eagles. And although the Lobos had a bad throw sail on an attempted steal by the Eagles into the outfield to allow Prosper to plate its fourth run of the game in the sixth inning, Little Elm’s defense kept the team in the game.
Little Elm’s defense backed up a solid pitching performance by senior Franyer Chavez, who allowed just one walk and kept the damage to a minimum despite surrendering 10 hits.
Chavez allowed just one run through the first four innings, which came on a double by Jackson Juvera in the top of the first inning, to give Prosper a 1-0 lead.
“I love that guy,” Harbin said of Chavez. “I love his family. He’s an intense competitor out there. He’s 5-10, but he plays like he’s 6-4. No moment is too big for the guy.”
Chavez was dealing, but Prosper senior Josh Barnhouse was just as good. Barnhouse retired the first nine Lobo batters that he faced and the only hit that he allowed through the game’s first five innings was a bunt single by Kendal Johnson to lead off the home half of the fifth.
Barnhouse yielded a solo home run to Little Elm junior Brandon Dickinson in the bottom of the sixth, but it was the only run that he allowed – a game in which he struck out eight and yielded just three hits. He needed just 71 pitches to get through seven innings.
“I just tried to keep it short and sweet,” Barnhouse said. “[Little Elm] is a good hitting team and I just tried to keep my counts low. I did a pretty good job. I only had one walk, which I would have liked to have back. They battled hard and they were a good team.”
Harbin is treating the loss as a minor setback.
It comes just three days after Little Elm went 3-2 in their home tournament, an event in which the Lobos called up two freshmen from their JV1 squad to help keeping their pitching rotation fresh.
Caden Richardson came back from a 3-0 count to strike out a Frisco Memorial hitter, a situation in which the Wolverines had the bases loaded in a one-run game to hold on for a 2-1 win on March 13.
In Little Elm’s previous game, a 5-2 triumph over Sherman, Roman Robinson got the start and pitched five scoreless innings, allowing three hits with four strikeouts.
“Our future is bright,” Harbin said. “We’ve got a lot of good, young talent that we really, really like.”
Against Sherman, senior catcher Luis Cruz went a perfect three-for-three at the plate to power the Lobos offense, including an RBI single in the fifth inning to give Little Elm a commanding 5-0 lead.
To open the tournament, Little Elm was undone by an eight-run top of the sixth by Plano in a 10-4 loss to the Wildcats on March 11 – a game that was tied 2-2 after the first inning.
Chavez and Cruz each had two hits in the loss.
Little Elm bounced back later in the day, using a five-run first to seize the momentum before going on to earn an 11-1 win over Mount Pleasant. Dickinson and Leonard both homered for Little Elm.
Dustin Linder and Brayden Howard combined on a two-hit gem of a pitching performance, striking out eight batters in the process.
Little Elm was unable to overcome an early four-run deficit in a 7-1 loss to Rockwall-Heath on March 12.Nico Granado had two hits for the Lobos.
“If we could have had a couple of breaks go our way, it would have been a little different, could have easily gone 4-1 or 5-0,” Harbin said. “As long as that team shows up, the way that we played, the way that we didn’t let anything faze us, it’s going to translate. It’s going to translate into something good.”