As I covered the Western Pioneers’ 2015 season, I often shared a similar view of the games with red-shirt freshman, Taylor Avila. Even though he often sat alone with his feet kicked up or huddled in a corner of the dugout chomping on a bag of seeds, the former Olustee All-Stater wasn’t hard to notice. He was the one player in uniform holding an iPad.
Avila kept the stats for the Pioneers. Day in and day out, game in and game out he saw every pitch. He made every road trip and saw a season of baseball pass him by. That would be tough to handle for most studs coming off the kind of high school career that Avila just put in at Olustee. Avila handled it like he handled the iPad, like a pro.
I noticed he wouldn’t allow himself to be distracted. As the season went along, I noticed that his focus was apparently on point away from the field as well. I noticed Taylor was getting bigger. He was already a young, stout, 6’3” athlete. However, it was obvious Taylor was putting in work clanking the weights because he was thickening up.
Avila took advantage of his red-shirt year much to the delight of his Pioneer coaches. “We are looking for him to step up and be a factor for us next season,” said Pioneer head coach Kurt Russell. “He could’ve played for us this year but I didn’t want to get him only 50-60 at bats and burn a year of his eligibility. Red-shirting him was best for him. Especially since he treated it like a mature kid should By putting in the work in the weight room and the cages necessary to get better. I think Taylor has a shot to be a player.”
Avila didn’t wait for his college season to start making use of his new frame. He spent his summer playing for the S.W. Shockers American Legion team Based out of Lawton and coached by his high school coach, Olustee’s Eagle Fixico. Avila and the Shockers put together a season to remember and had rattled off 19 straight wins before losing a game.
Flash forward to the State Tournament. The American legion State Tournament was held in Bartlesville at Bill Doenges Memorial Stadium. Shockers SW was seated 4 out 5. After disposing of the Ada A’s 23-2, the S.W. Shockers faced the number 1 seeded 3 Rivers squad based out of the Muskogee area.
After 3Rivers hit a solo shot to tie the game 4-4, 3Rivers walked the lead-off ahead of Taylor Avila. Avila fell behind in the count, 1-2 before turning on a long ball sending it deep over the wall for the 6-4 walk-off win.
The Shockers then trounced all over Bartlesville, 20-2 to force the rematch with 3Rivers in the championship game. There was no love losses between these two foes and the game was very intense. There were two ejections and a collision at home plate between the Shockers’ lead-off hitter and the 3Rivers’ catcher big enough to send that catcher to the hospital.
Again, with the game tied, Avila’s spot in the lineup was due and he dug in with the score tied at 7.
There is a quote that coaches like to throw around from time to time claiming success is merger of preparation and opportunity. In Avila’s case, it certainly rings true. He had most definitely prepared and now he again had an opportunity.
Unfortunately for 3Rivers, they didn’t learn anything from the 2nd round game and changed pitchers again putting the same pitcher in to face Avila that had yielded that 2nd round walk off.
The bases were loaded and with two outs and a full count, Avila got into a fastball on the outside corner driving it over the right centerfield fence for the grand slam and the 11-7 lead. 3Rivers never recovered and the Shockers claimed the State Championship.
For the tournament, Avila had 3 home runs and the Shockers out scored their opponents 63-16 as the team hit 9 home runs combined.
The Shockers will get picked up Tuesday by American Legion via charter bus to be taken to Regionals in Arkansas against other state championship teams.
Congratulations Shockers. I can’t wait to see what Taylor will bring to the plate for the Pioneers now that he has put the iPad down.
Reach Brad Gilbert @482-1221 ext. 2076