Coach: Ron Eastman, 13th season
2013: 36-4 overall, 11-1 in District 14-5A
2013 playoffs: Swept Atascocita in bi-district (6-0, 8-2), beat Round Rock Stony Point in one-game area playoff (2-1), swept Round Rock in the regional quarterfinals (4-0, 8-2), swept Plano West in the regional semifinals (8-1, 8-0) and beat Rockwall 2-1 in their regional finals series (12-5, 1-7, 12-6).
Next up: The Highlanders face San Antonio O'Connor in the Class 5A semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
Key players: P Ryan Burnett, P Carter Hope, 1B Chris Andritsos, C Alex Dunlap, IF Luke Sherley
The Woodlands survived a tough series last week at UT's Disch-Falk Field, outlasting Rockwall in three games to win the Class 5A Region II title and return to state for the first time in seven years.
The Highlanders showed they can pile on the runs when necessary, coming from behind to win big in the first and second games, and no inning was bigger than their 12-run, 17-man sixth in Game 1.
They trailed 3-0 going into that sixth, and ended up winning the series opener 12-5.
"It was a pretty amazing inning," coach Ron Eastman said. "Like most teams, our approach is always trying to take one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, and when you get down that far, and you're down late in the game, you can't really look at the scoreboard.
"You've just got to have quality at-bats."
They did that, stringing together a number of big hits, including two-run doubles by Chris Andritsos and Carter Hope. Andritsos added an RBI single in the inning, as did two other Highlanders.
Eastman said the inning came down to better approaches than they'd had earlier in the game, and the Rockwall pitchers' struggle with control.
"They ended up bringing in three or four guys," Eastman said. "The only one we didn't see was the guy … who beat us in Game 2."
The Highlanders dropped the second game 7-1 before rebounding to win Game 3 and the series. They trailed 6-1 in the third game before a seven-run, third-inning eruption, eventually winning 12-6.
"They were a good team," Eastman said. "They're as good as anybody we've faced.
"They hit the ball as well as anybody we've seen in the playoffs, and did a good job barreling up the fastball. They play a real hard-nosed type of baseball, and so they weren't going to quit, they weren't going to give up."
Neither are the Highlanders, who proved as much in Austin. Now they have to keep it going in Round Rock.
"The ability to survive that makes us better going to the state tournament just because we had to go to an elimination game and play a very hard-nosed team that pitched it pretty well," Eastman said.
"Fortunately for us, our last guy on the mound pitched better than their last couple guys on the mound."
Eastman said it's a great feeling to be back at state for the first time since 2006. The state championship was their goal going into the season, and it's still a very real possibility with four teams left.
The 2006 team won the state and mythical national championships, and the comparisons between this The Woodlands team and that one are starting to heat up, but Eastman says it's a bit premature.
"This is a great group," Eastman said. "In '06, we had six guys drafted off that team and 11 guys go play college baseball, eventually, so we're going to have to wait a few years."
The current Highlanders incarnation has great heart, Eastman said. It doesn't have the superstar mentality of the 2006 club, led by first-round MLB draft pick Kyle Drabek and Paul Goldschmidt.
But with Carter Hope and Ryan Burnett on the mound, Eastman says their 1-2 punch rivals Drabek and Steven Maxwell.
"Talent-wise, they're pretty close," he said. "We'll see how well we can finish. That group just lost one game, and it was a game we probably shouldn't have lost, and they ran the table in the playoffs, too.
"That was a pretty special group. Some people say it's the greatest team in Texas high school baseball history."
The Woodlands opens the state tournament against San Antonio O'Connor at 3 p.m. Friday at Dell Diamond. O'Connor features Texas A&M signee Mark Ecker, a standout pitcher who could only hit last week because of an elbow injury, and pitcher Justin Garcia, who clinched their first state trip.
"We just need to keep doing what we've been doing," Eastman said. "We need to keep our focus. You've got four great teams, and it's just a matter of who comes out Friday and plays the best game.
"Obviously, we want to try to get out to an early lead, but now we know, after the last couple weeks, that if we do get behind that we have the heart and the offense to climb back into a game."