The Randy Keller Memorial Baseball tournament was hosted by Amarillo ISD over three days last week, but it ended up belonging to Canyon ISD.
More specifically, it ended up belonging to the Randall Raiders and coach Cory Hamilton.
Nobody lived up to their reputation more over three days than the Raiders, and it turned out to be a perfect storm for Randall to conclude the tournament Saturday at Raider Field. The Raiders scored their fifth straight 10-run mercy rule win of the tournament, blanking Palo Duro 10-0 in five innings, a victory which appropriately gave Hamilton his 400th career coaching win.
If this past week is any indication, this is shaping up to be the biggest season yet for Hamilton in his 15 years at Randall, which improved to 13-3 on the season. Saturday’s win was a testament to his success at the school.
“It’s never been about a number,” Hamilton said. “We’ve just tried to keep things as simple as possible. Whoever’s next we’ve always put the best effort ahead to get the next win.”
There were five of those over the weekend at the Keller. The Raiders opened the tournament by routing Caprock 11-1 and Amarillo High 12-2 at Hodgetown on Thursday, then on Friday beat Hamilton (coached by former Amarillo High coach Jeff Timmons) 10-0 and Tascosa 15-1.
Randall was the only team to go undefeated in the tournament’s round robin format, as everybody else had at least one loss, making the Raiders the paper champion of the 11-team field. If nothing else, the Raiders have established themselves as the team to beat in District 4-4A.
“I think the guys are playing really well,” Hamilton said. “At no point in the season do we really analyze what we’ve done because we’re always looking to the next one. I wish we had time to rest but at the end of the season we’ll look back on the accomplishments.”
If there’s one game which could be a snapshot of Hamilton’s success at Randall’s homefield, it might be that Palo Duro game. The Dons were a longtime former district opponent of the Raiders before Randall dropped to Class 4A in the UIL’s last realignment over a year ago.
With the wind blowing out to left field, Mason Gilbert and Michael Santiago both hit three-run home runs off Palo Duro starter Brylee Balze to stake Randall to a 6-0 lead which set the tone for the game. In the third inning, Gilbert hit a two-run homer to left.
“We had batting practice out here this morning and everybody wants to be in the lineup with the wind blowing out,” Hamilton said. “I was really impressed with our pitchers because it wasn’t the best day to pitch, but we threw strikes, ran a lot of guys out there and they did a great job. We had a lot of guys who needed work and they got it in today.”
Four Randall pitchers combined to give up only three hits to Palo Duro, who didn’t get a runner past first base. Starter Justin Gallardo threw two shutout innings and Gio Miranda, Hagen Shedd and Brae Silva each threw a shutout inning of relief.
As for the other CISD teams, Canyon and West Plains both were impressive, posting 4-1 marks.
Wolves show they can play
If there was a revelation at the Keller, it had to be West Plains. The Wolves are a first-year school, and they seem determined to repeat the success of their varsity football and boys’ basketball teams, both of whom made the playoffs in their inaugural seasons.
West Plains (10-5) started the tournament impressively with a 2-0 win over Palo Duro, as left-hander Bryton Bertrand threw a 1-hit shutout. The Wolves lost to Caprock 7-6 in their second game Thursday but closed the tournament with three straight wins.
Against Hamilton at Hodgetown, the Wolves rolled to an 11-2 win. Bertrand was the star at the plate this time, getting the scoring started with a two-run homer and falling a single short of the cycle.
On the mound another lefty, Jalyn Aguilera, went 5 2/3 innings and gave up only four hits to pick up the win. The Wolves rallied from seven runs down to beat Amarillo High 10-8 to start the day.
“Today was a fun day,” said West Plains coach Colby Chandler, a former Amarillo High assistant, after beating Hamilton. “I think we had 24 hits on the day. Our bats woke up and just chipped away at (Amarillo High) and we were able to get a win.”
For Chandler, it was also a day of mixed emotions. As an AHS assistant he coached under both Timmons and one year under current Sandies coach Randon Johnson.
“I have much respect for both those guys,” Chandler said. “I spent a lot of time with them there and I still talk to both of them quite a bit. It was fun just getting to see them and be around them today.”
Timmons successfully returns
In his first trip back to town since retiring from Amarillo High in 2018, Timmons had a pretty good week leading Hamilton, as the Bulldogs were 4-2 at the Keller. Hamilton was the smallest school at the tournament but reached the Class 2A regional semifinals last season in the first year under Timmons.
“I was talking with coach (Jason) Patrick at Tascosa and he had a spot and invited us to come,” said Timmons of how his team got to the Keller this season. “I told him if we could make it we would come. Our kids raised some money to come up here and they were excited about it.”
Timmons left AHS before Hodgetown opened in 2019, so he never got a chance to coach there. Hamilton was the only team in the tournament who got to play two games at the field, and the Bulldogs split them.
“Before we moved out of town we came and watched several of the Sod Poodle games and came to concert up here with my wife,” Timmons said. “It’s a really nice venue which is great for the city of Amarillo. It was very appealing to play here and our kids were excited about it. Amarillo’s a great place and I just feel blessed to be here.”
Mixed bag for Amarillo High
It started out as a rough tournament for co-host Amarillo High, as the Sandies were 0-3-1 through two days to start the tournament. They showed some flashes on the mound and at the plate but were still searching for an identity.
Amarillo High (6-9-2) closed the tournament strong, though, beating Dumas 9-2 and Perryton 14-0 on Saturday.
“Obviously we want to play better and that’s the big goal,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’ve seen us play better this year. We’ve got to do some little things better and stop walking people with two outs. We’ve had a lot of guys really compete on the mound, but we’ve got get better at the plate.”