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‘It’s time for us to step up’: Coaches hope playoff success is on the horizon for DISD baseball

As the postseason nears, the success of South Oak Cliff football and Madison basketball serves as an inspiration for Dallas ISD baseball.

Miguel Nava had to pause and think.

When was the last time a Dallas ISD baseball team beat someone outside of its school district in the postseason at the 5A level?

Adamson’s baseball coach couldn’t produce an answer.

It’s because it hasn’t happened yet.

Since 2015 — when the 6A classification was installed and the current iteration of the 5A class was born — the city’s teams are 0-for-28 in playoff series’ against teams outside of its own school district. All 12 of Dallas ISD’s postseason series wins in 5A during that period have come against teams within their own school district in the bi-district round.

Carter and North Dallas won their first-round series against Alvarado and Hillsboro last season at the 4A level, but sustained success has remained slim. No Dallas ISD baseball team has advanced to the third round of the playoffs since Hillcrest did at the 4A level in 2011.

The school district’s coaches are eager to buck that trend.

“It’s time for us to step up,” Sunset coach Kenny Timmes said.

Molina shortstop Martin Colunga (r) steals second base against Kimball second baseman...
Molina shortstop Martin Colunga (r) steals second base against Kimball second baseman Sebastian Dominguez (L) during a high school baseball game played at Higgins Baseball Field in Dallas. (Steve Nurenberg/Special Contributor)

“We’re getting there”

Molina hasn’t lost a district game since 2020. It went 16-0 in District 12-5A last year, and has won its first 15 district games this season. It has a plus-143 run differential against district foes this season.

Coach Henry Smith credits the top teams in Molina’s district — like Sunset and Adamson, which gave Molina its toughest in-district battles — for serving as playoff preparation.

But he knew he’d need to do more to prepare his team for the postseason. The first seven games of Molina’s regular season were against out-of-district 5A teams: West Mesquite, South Garland, Carrollton Smith, Frisco Centennial, Frisco, Frisco Lone Star and Frisco Independence. Molina went 3-4 in those games.

“I always tell them, you want to give them some exposure, even if it’s just getting them out of the area,” Smith said. “I always like to go play the suburb teams. You’re talking about facilities and things that we don’t have. Those are the things we have to overcome, and I’d rather for them to see that early than late. I don’t want them to have that deer in the headlight look.”

Youth baseball’s struggle within cities is well-documented. Facilities, as Smith said, are one thing. The cost of the game — from training to high-level travel ball — is another. He hopes that the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities Program — a $30 million foundation designed to provide baseball and softball opportunities for kids in underserved communities — will help continue to narrow the gap between the have’s and have-not’s.

“Upgrades and renovations to our 22 high school baseball and softball facilities will be completed this year,” Dallas ISD director of athletics Silvia Salinas said. “Getting upgrades for our facilities is a huge factor in the success of our programs. While we know it won’t change overnight, we expect to see great improvement among many of these programs over the next several years. It would be meaningful for our District to see these efforts pay off with a deep run in the playoffs.”

As Smith said, “we’re getting there, and you can see the benefit of that within teams in Dallas right now.”

Molina is a good example of “getting there.” After winning eight total games from 2019-20, it went 23-5-1 in 2021 and is 19-5 this season. Smith said that, when his players are asked about the team, the question is now “Did you win today?” and not “Did you lose today?”

Smith’s team is now expected to win. Mindset, Timmes said, might be the key to postseason success.

Timmes, now in his 42nd year as a coach, said that in 2019 — when his Adamson team won the district championship — his team fell flat in the playoffs and was swept in the first round

“Our kids were just so happy to win the district to be in the playoffs, they forgot to have the mindset of a next step,” Timmes said. “It’s our job as coaches, whether it’s at Molina, Adamson or us, it’s our job to give them the mindset of ‘We need to take the next step.’

“We’re now sitting here at 18-4-1, and we have the opportunity to go further, go deep in the playoffs, if we want to.”

South Oak Cliff head coach Jason Todd lifts the game trophy after a victory over Lubbock...
South Oak Cliff head coach Jason Todd lifts the game trophy after a victory over Lubbock Cooper in a Class 5A Division II state semifinal at Shotwell Stadium on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Abilene, Texas. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

“Why couldn’t we go all the way?”

As it often has this year — and, likely will in the future — all roads lead back to South Oak Cliff.

The school won Dallas ISD’s first football state championship since 1958 in December, with a 23-14 victory against Liberty Hill in the 5A Div. II title game. Madison’s basketball won the 3A boys basketball state championship in March, and cited South Oak Cliff’s football team as an inspiration.

“Other programs are looking at them and trying to figure out how they achieved at such a high level, and they will continue to make efforts to duplicate their plan and attain the same success,” Salinas said.

Both now provide fuel for the district’s baseball teams.

“Those kids have fired up everyone else in the district,” Timmes said. He hopes his Sunset team can have a similar impact on the rest of the school.

“I hope that we can move on further, so the rest of the kids at Sunset can be motivated to increase their drive in their sports,” he said.

A Sunset playoff run, for example, wouldn’t only motivate a singular school, either.

“I’d feel proud, even if it was Molina or Sunset,” Nava said. “I’d be at the games watching them and supporting them.”

So if it is time to step up, like Timmes said, his district colleagues are ready to answer the call.

“We could be in the same spot that South Oak Cliff was at,” Smith said. “If we could go three rounds deep, then why couldn’t we go all the way?”

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Find more high school sports coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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