Sports

Roadrunner basketball sending eight players to next level

By Gary Stallard, AC Athletics

After missing out on an opportunity to compete for a national championship back in March, the Angelina College men’s basketball team nevertheless is finding reasons to celebrate.

Eight good reasons, in fact.

With the pandemic ending the Roadrunners’ dream season early, head coach Nick Wade and assistant coach Zac Kircher nevertheless worked to ensure their players would find a home at the next level. Their efforts resulted in a total of eight Runners from the 2019-2020 squad moving up to play basketball for a university.

Gwarren Douglass of Cleveland, Ohio, has signed with Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas; Tayvion Johnson of Houston has signed with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Emmanuel Adeoye has signed with Texas A&M University-Commerce; Braxton Foreman of Frederick, Maryland, signed with Tiffin University in Ohio; Cameron Hart of Lufkin has signed with Houston Baptist University; Dralyn Brown of Houston has signed with York College in York, Nebraska; Travis Henson of Oxon Hill, Maryland, has signed with California State University, Bakersfield; and Dwight Simon of Alexandria, Louisiana, has signed with Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri.

Seven of those players were on the AC roster in 2019-2020 and contributed to the team’s 24-9 record overall and 16-3 record in Region XIV play. Adeoye redshirted in 2019-2020 and did not see game action.

Wade and Kircher have said all along their main goal is to get incoming players to buy into the importance of both academics and athletics once they reach the collegiate level.

 “We make sure we let the players know you can’t have one without the other,” Wade said. “We really hold them to that. We tell them if they’re not going to take care of business in the classroom, then to be honest, they can’t play for us. To be a champion on and off the court is something we strive to instill, and I couldn’t be any prouder of this batch of guys. They held to their end of the deal, and now they’re able to continue both their academic and athletic careers.”

Wade added that while losing out on a national tournament opportunity and missing a full season because of the pandemic has been painful, seeing his players continue living their dreams is a pretty big morale boost.

“It hurts that we aren’t able to finish the deal with some of them, just because we’re a family here,” Wade said. “It was just as tough on those players as it was on us. That’s what hurts, is bringing guys in hoping to get to spend the full two years with them, but because of the situation we’re in, we didn’t get to do that. But I feel we and they did a good enough job to set them up in a position to take that next big step.

“It’s rewarding, and it’s a blessing.”

Eight Roadrunners from the 2019-2020 squad are moving up to play basketball for a university. (photo contributed)

Rangers call up former Roadrunner pitcher

By Gary Stallard, AC Athletics

John King spent two years as part of Angelina College head baseball coach Jeff Livin’s pitching staff, taking the mound at Roadrunner Field in 2014 and 2015. King cemented his AC legacy during the 2015 regional tournament when he tossed a complete-game shutout over a high-powered San Jacinto team, helping send the Runners to the tournament final.

From there, King signed with the University of Houston where he continued his reputation as a big-game pitcher. As the Cougars’ lone senior in 2017, King was the winning pitcher on both the regular-season title game against Cincinnati and in the American Championship tournament title game against East Carolina.

Drafted in the 10th round by the Texas Rangers, King received the phone call every baseball player dreams of hearing the week of August 30. The Rangers called up King to join the big squad.

Livin said King’s path to the majors held its share of bumps and bruises, but the lefty’s determination played a massive role in achieving his dream.

“John did a great job at the University of Houston,” Livin said. “I talked with his coaches, and they commented on John’s work ethic and his focus in that area.”

 Livin described King as a player who arrived at AC “pretty much under the radar.” Some arm issues during King’s freshman season left the Laredo product with little to show for his efforts. However, those issues helped King realize how much harder he would need to work to achieve success.

“I think that’s when his work ethic really kicked in,” Livin said. “John decided he was going to work his way through this thing. He really got into things such as his diet and training as we went along, and he added quite a bit of velocity while he was here. He came on strong toward the end of his sophomore season and pitched us into the regional tournament. His career just took off from there.”

As for seeing King’s potential as a future major leaguer, Livin said, “I don’t think there’s ever an indication for any player that he’s going to make it to the big leagues. Did I think he’d have a chance to play pro baseball? Yeah, I did. He didn’t have a ton of velocity coming out of high school, but he had a big-time curve ball. The ability to make the ball spin is such a big deal for any pitcher, and he’s had that from the beginning.”

Livin also mentioned how King’s path led him to having the right people see his big-game mentality and overall ability to get hitters out.

“It’s a small world for sure,” Livin laughed. “Bob Laurie, who was my assistant last season, was actually the scout who led to John getting drafted by the Rangers out of the University of Houston. Bob had John on his radar years ago.

“John had some arm troubles his last year at U of H and was scheduled for surgery after the season, and the Rangers still thought enough of him to draft him fairly high. I have no doubt John’s stock would have been even higher had he been completely healthy at the time. The Rangers and Bob took a chance on him, and it looks like it’s paying off for John very well.”

Former Angelina College pitcher John King received the call from the Texas Rangers and has joined the club as it faced the Houston Astros over two games. King led the Roadrunners to the 2015 regional tournament championship game. (Gary Stallard/AC Athletics photo)

AC soccer adds Murillo as assistant coach

By Gary Stallard, AC Athletics

The Angelina College soccer program has added Paul Murillo to serve as an assistant coach with Murillo joining first-year head coach Nataki Stewart to guide both the women’s and men’s teams.

Murillo brings a wealth of both coaching and playing experience, having spent the past three years as the director of coaching for the Sereno Academy Program in Arizona. He also served as the club’s goalkeeper coach for two years. The Sereno Academy is recognized as one of many strong affiliates to Major League Soccer, providing a developmental process for the Utah Royals (Women’s Premier Soccer League) and Real Salt Lake (Major League Soccer).

From 2013-2016, Murillo served as goalkeeper and conditioning coach with FC Dallas Academy’s program. Murillo was a volunteer assistant coach at El Dorado High School from 2010-2012, working with both the girls’ and boys’ programs.

Before entering the coaching ranks, Murillo played for the SoCal Seahorses, a soccer club based in La Mirada, California. He also spent time with Chivas USA Academy and the Whitter Soccer Club.

Under Murillo’s guidance, more than 16 athletes have advanced to the Division I collegiate ranks; nine of his former players currently are playing professionally in the MLS, Liga MX and A-League.

Stewart said the addition of Murillo will provide a boost for every Angelina College player.

“I am very excited to welcome Paul to our coaching staff and the Lufkin community,” Stewart said. “He is of high character and brings extensive championship experience at the club level to AC. In addition, he is passionate about player development, commitment to excellence along with his ability to mentor young people will aid in developing our culture. He is also a top goalkeeper trainer and an elite recruiter.”

Murillo and his fiancé Rhiannon live in Lufkin.

Paul Murillo has joined the Angelina College soccer program, bringing extensive experience as both a player, coach and recruiter to both the Lady Roadrunner and Roadrunner teams. (Gary Stallard/AC Press photo)

Six AC softball players earn Academic All-American honors

By Gary Stallard, AC Athletics

The National Junior College Athletic Association in July released its All-Academic honors list, and once again the Angelina College softball team landed among those mentioned.

The Lady Roadrunner team finished with an overall GPA of 3.28, qualifying for the NJCAA’s Academic Teams of the Year honors.

Twelve AC players finished with a 3.0 GPA or higher while six players earned Academic All-American status.

Named to the First-Team Academic All-American (4.0 GPA) list were Hannah Smart from Melbourne, Australia, and Alexa von Gontard from Montgomery, Texas.

Madison Murdock from Orange earned Second-Team Academic All-American (3.80-3.99 GPA); Kaylee Berdoll from Utley, Texas; Kaitlyn Odom from Woodville; and Hannah Scoggin from Diboll were named Third-Team Academic All-American (3.60-3.79 GPA).

First-year head softball coach Josh Barnes said the Lady Roadrunners adapted to the challenges they faced in the spring, including a mid-season cancellation and the shift to fully online courses for most colleges and universities.

“I’m proud of the way the girls finished, especially considering the way things unfolded with classes moving online,” Barnes said. “That’s not an easy transition for any student, but our players responded very well.

“We shifted gears from the fall and changed our mentality and overall team pride, and it showed up well in the spring.”

The Lady Runners’ performance in the classroom served as a continuation of sorts for Barnes, who while serving as head coach at McCook Community College in Nebraska saw his student athletes average eight Academic All-Americans during his three years there.

Hannah Smart is one of the six in Lady Runners softball to earn Academic All-American honors. (Gary Stallard/AC Press photo)