At the center of a highly successful season for Harlingen High was junior shortstop/pitcher Thomas Lyssy.
Lyssy excelled in all phases of the game, producing consistently as the leadoff hitter with a .456 average, anchoring the defense at shortstop and contributing strong innings and several key wins on the mound. He recorded a 0.98 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 49 innings.
Lyssy has been tabbed the Valley Morning Star’s 2021 All-STAR Baseball Most Valuable Player.
“It’s humbling because I’ve put a lot of work over my whole life to get to the level I’m at. I feel like the work you put in is what you get out of it, and it’s really good to have that feedback come in that you’re doing good,” Lyssy said.
This year, Lyssy took on extra responsibility as he stepped into a pitcher role. He’s typically a position player, locking down shortstop for the Cardinals and also patrolling the outfield for select teams.
He had another solid year as a top defender at short, but Lyssy was especially proud of the way he performed on the mound and boosted his offensive abilities. He racked up more than 50 hits and 14 extra-base hits to be one of Harlingen High’s top run producers, and he also stole 18 bases.
“Coming into this year I knew we didn’t have that much pitching and I knew I had to step up in that role. I felt I did really well in that,” Lyssy said. “(I improved) my hitting because sophomore year I didn’t really have the power aspect, I was more of a singles kind of guy. This year I was really focused on driving the ball more and having a more dominant presence. I’m going to continue working on that for next year.”
Cardinals coach Armando Rangel believes Lyssy can be even better in his senior season. He praised the cool demeanor that helped Lyssy win the starting shortstop job as a freshman and has now developed him into a leader.
“I can’t say enough about that young man. His attitude has always been, ‘Doesn’t matter what you throw at me, I’m just going to keep getting up and keep fighting,’” Rangel said. “He plays real loose, doesn’t let pressure get to him, and that just trickles down to the team. Sometimes things don’t go our way, and you always need a guy that’s going to be loose and he’s that type of kid. He’s the one that starts everything for us.”
This season, Lyssy was named the District 32-6A and Cardinals team MVP, too. He’s spending his summer playing with select teams and working with trainer Alejandro Martinez to keep improving and come back stronger next year.
Lyssy credited Martinez and his teammates, particularly Jacob Marroquin and his family, and other coaches and supporters for aiding his baseball journey.
“(Martinez has) always been a really big influence, teaching me the right way to play and being there when I’m struggling. Coach Rangel (and Harlingen High assistants Gus Henggeler and Kevin Ledesma) have been awesome. And my select team has helped more with the mentality of how to play the right way,” Lyssy said.
“I know where I’m at right now and where I can be, and it’s really exciting knowing that I’m already having high expectations and I can pass even farther.”
Offensive Player of the Year
Darren Ramirez, Raymondville
Ramirez, a senior, was one-half of Raymondville’s dynamic duo that coach Carlos Moreno said had an immeasurable impact on the Bearkats baseball program.
Ramirez was stellar on the mound and at the plate this season, but he particularly shined as Raymondville’s best offensive player. The THSBCA first-team all-state shortstop led Class 4A with his .623 batting average and was tied for third with six home runs. He recorded 10 additional extra-base hits and drove in a team-high 28 RBIs behind 33 hits.
“It feels good. I worked hard at it, and I just wanted to show my coaches what I had, my grandpa, and show them what I can do. Just hit the ball, square it up and everything will be all right,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said he had a lot of responsibility hitting in the three-hole in the lineup, but he never felt pressured by it. Hitting behind his brother, Derick, motivated him to be better. He said pitchers often threw him junk and off-speed pitches to try and throw him off, but he made the adjustments necessary to stay successful.
One of Ramirez’s favorite hits came during his final Bearkats game, when he kept his team competitive in an area playoff series finale against Hondo.
“I was three-hole so every time I would go up my brother would be on. He had a job and did his job, and I had a job and I had to do my job and bring him in,” Ramirez said. “(Pitchers) would always throw me offspeed, so I had to adjust and just square it up. We were down against Hondo, second-round game in Ingleside, and I hit a two-run bomb. That was the best one, that was pretty bad.”
Ramirez said he put a lot of work into his swing heading into his junior year, and after COVID-19 cut last season short, it was good to see that work come to fruition in his big senior season. He was proud to leave a good legacy at Raymondville and thanked his grandfather, mother and hitting coach Alejandro Martinez for their support and help along the way.
“It was an honor playing here with my brother. We hadn’t won district (in a long time), we brought it back and we made it to the playoffs, and it was great playing next to my brother and my friends I grew up with.”
Defensive Player of the Year
Derick Ramirez, Raymondville
Opponents had a tough time getting hits and scoring runs against Raymondville this season, largely because of the pitching dominance from Derick Ramirez.
He and his brother were a ruthless one-two punch that led the Bearkats to a District 32-4A championship and eight district wins in shutout fashion. Ramirez threw more than 50 innings and picked up seven wins behind his 99 strikeouts and 0.75 ERA, which ranked him in the top 10 among Class 4A players. His senior campaign also earned him a co-district MVP title and a trip to the THSBCA All-Star Game.
“It feels really good. I’ve been working all my life for my last year, and since last year our season got cut short, I just worked hard for it this year,” Ramirez said. “I had to take a break in the summer because my arm was kind of shot. I felt like I came back stronger this year.”
Ramirez felt this was his best season on the mound at Raymondville. He closed out the district season by tossing a no-hitter against Grulla. His most meaningful win came during the second round against Hidalgo, when he avenged a first-round loss with a two-hit gem to help the Bearkats clinch the district title.
“Probably the best game I had was against Hidalgo. (After losing at home first round) I told my coach I wanted the ball the second game for the district title, and he gave it to me and I was on my ‘A’ game. I felt good there,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez credited the relationship he has with Bearkats catcher Gabriel Garza for keeping him comfortable on the mound and helping him get up early in counts.
“I just throw strikes, like my coach tells me. Me and my catcher have a good connection. Everything just falls into place with me and him because he already knew what I wanted to throw,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said his brother and their grandfather were his biggest motivators and supporters as the twins strived to lift the Raymondville program to a new level.
“My grandpa always pushed me and my brother. When we’re not at practice we just compete against each other and it made us better, me and him going at it every day,” Ramirez said.
Newcomer of the Year
Max Graciani, San Perlita
After contributing to a lengthy basketball playoff run that ended in the Region IV-1A final, junior Max Graciani was at a disadvantage jumping into baseball season.
Graciani didn’t have any varsity baseball reps under his belt and only had about two years of the experience in the sport. He got just two practices in before diving straight into the district slate.
But none of that kept him from shining. Graciani notched a .500 batting average and led the Trojans in all offensive categories. He was strong on the mound, racking up 40 strikeouts in limited innings, and played lockdown defense in center field to earn the All-STAR newcomer award.
“It means a lot. It was my first year playing, and with basketball and that deep playoff run we barely had any time to practice. I feel like I performed very well,” Graciani said.
Trojans coach Marco Munguia said Graciani’s speed and length helped him “clean up any fly ball” that came his way. Graciani said he’s composed under any kind of pressure, which helped him stay relaxed and let his natural abilities lead him to success.
Some highlight moments for Graciani were when he struck out 12 batters in a six-inning game, scoring the winning run after a double and smart running on the bases in the season finale, and leading the team with hits in every game.
“I wasn’t nervous, I don’t think I ever really get nervous, about going straight into district. It was fun and very competitive,” Graciani said. “We were underdogs of the season… but our team was very good and it came naturally with the chemistry we have since we’re a small school.”
Graciani plans to build off his strong debut season to keep leading the Trojans as a senior.
“I had people doubting me, saying first year I wouldn’t be able to compete because (of) lack of experience. So I stepped up to the plate and showed them that I can do it all,” Graciani said. “(This award) shows that I am who I say I am, and that I’m not going to bow down to anything. I’m going to compete no matter what.”
Coach of the Year
Armando Rangel, Harlingen High
The Cardinals ended a 23-year drought by winning the District 32-6A championship this season.
They did so in undefeated fashion, going 14-0 against a tough schedule before reaching the area round of the playoffs. Rangel coached the young Cardinals squad to one of the program’s best seasons is the All-STAR coach of the year, but he was quick to place the praise elsewhere.
“The recognition really goes to the people that work under you. My coaches do a tremendous job, and we have awesome kids with awesome attitudes. That’s basically what this award really means. It says a lot about my kids and my coaches,” Rangel said.
Rangel said this season “was a learning experience” as the Cardinals navigated playing through a pandemic and coming in without an offseason. He set out to get his team as many reps as possible and put together a tough non-district schedule with games against some of the RGV’s best.
Harlingen High had ups and downs, swapping wins and losses with Sharyland Pioneer and McAllen High, and taking on Sharyland High, Brownsville Veterans Memorial and other playoff-bound squads. When district rolled around the Cardinals knew how to battle, and the hard work paid dividends.
“We talk about having a championship culture attitude. Everybody’s going to face adversity at one point or another during the season. It’s really how you handle that adversity,” Rangel said. “We can complain about it, or we can go out there and play our best and give it all we got, and whatever happens at the end we accept. That’s the attitude we try to instill in our kids, and we call it ‘Cardinal Grit.’”
Lyssy credited Rangel’s “Cardinal Grit” philosophy for pushing the team to success. Lyssy said Rangel preaches that players believing in their ability to be better than the best, and the players buying into that mindset has the skipper excited for the future.
“That’s basically what we’re trying to instill in our kids, that it doesn’t matter who you play, just get on the field and compete at a high level,” Rangel said. “Our kids bought into that and understood that we had goals to accomplish. They did a great job with the youth that we have on the team.”