Earlier this month, the 1979 Ross S. Sterling baseball team celebrated the 40-year reunion of the only team in school history to ever play in the state baseball tournament in Austin.
The Rangers lost a heartbreaker, 1-0, to the Spring Lions in the then-Class 4A state championship game.
What made this reunion unique was that several members of the Spring team were also on hand to celebrate the game, which lives on in the minds of the players who battled each other that day.
One of the Spring players was Mike Capel, who was a member of the 1983 University of Texas team that won the national championship and who later played briefly for the Houston Astros.
The reunion was planned by Wes Walker and hosted by Jimmy Twardowski, both of whom played vital roles for the Rangers in their quest for a championship. Twardowski is now headmaster at Baytown Christian Academy.
Twardowski’s brother, Danny, was the Spring assistant coach that year, and his team contacts enabled the group to have both teams in attendance. Walker said,
“It was very special being able to have members of both teams attend and hearing the other side’s perspective of the game after all these years,” Walker said. “It was really fun.
“Getting to see everybody together again brings back so many great memories of a special time in our lives.”
RSS coach Ronnie Kluch and Spring coach Alex Jordan were both in attendance and both commented on “how difficult it is to win a state championship in Texas” and the fact that it was a shame either team had to lose. It was such a close game and both teams deserved to win, they agreed.
Former Baytown Sun Sports Editor Michael Mann, who covered many of the Rangers games that year, was also able to attend and commented, “It is very special to see all the players after all these years.”
Some players had not seen each other since the day they walked off the field that year, Walker pointed out.
Even though the 1979 Rangers team was extremely talented, their trip to state was not expected since they first had to beat the Spring Woods Tigers in the regional finals. The Tigers were widely regarded as the No. 1 team in the nation in 1979 and came into the series with a 30-2 record.
In fact, the Tigers were so loaded that future major league super star Roger Clemens was their No. 3 pitcher but never pitched in the best-of-three series.
Rick Leucken was Spring Woods’ ace pitcher and was drafted in the first round by the San Francisco Giants later that summer.
Rayner Noble was Tigers No. 2 hurler, and he went on to become an All-American at the University of Houston and a Houston Astros draft pick. Noble also went on to become a successful head coach at the University of Houston.
The Rangers beat the Tigers 4-3 and 2-1 to move on to the state tournament for the first and the only time in school history.
Sterling won the critical series because it also had top-flight pitchers, Walker and Charlie Corbell.
Walker went on to pitch for San Jacinto College and the Houston Cougars, where he had a combined record of 12-2, which included six shutouts.
As a Ranger, he still holds three school records for career wins (25), strikeouts (231) and ERA (0.99). He also recorded 11 shutouts in his high school career.
In the drive to state tournament, Walker compiled a 5-0 record.
Corbell was at Blinn College when he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1981, but continued his career at the University of Arkansas and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1983.
While he never made the majors as a player, he did pitch in the minors and compiled a 54-42 record over seven seasons.
He continued his career as a coach for several minor league clubs, and in 2014 became the minor league pitching coordinator for the major league Miami Marlins.
Corbell also had coaching stops at the collegiate level at Lamar University and Galveston College.
Corbell retired from baseball two years ago.
Sterling team members attending the reunion were Charlie Corbell, Gary Lamb, Frank Hernandez, Greg “Yogi” Isenberg, Greg Kellogg, Craig Cervenka, Doc Craig, Jaime Galloway, Bill Beauchamp, Walker, Twardowski and Coach Kluch. Also in attendance was Rangers’ assistant coach Bruce Paulus.
Two members who were not able to attend were Lloyd Hollister and Terry Cartwright, The team also remembered Tim Cartwright, Perry Price, and Coach Al Hawthorne who passed away.