Tour of a lifetime: George Ligon’s team made its mark

By Jerry Briggs
An in-depth report, for The JB Replay

About 35 years have passed since a World War II-era baseball ambassador named George Ligon, Jr., died and was laid to rest in Southern California. A headstone at the man’s Brawley, Calif., gravesite marks his service to the nation as a U.S. Army veteran of the war’s Pacific theater.

George Ligon, Jr., started a touring baseball team out of Hondo in the 1930s. It played in the United States, Canada and Mexico for 15 years through the early 1950s. Ligon kept the team going even after he returned from military service in World War II. Photo copy, from the archives of the Brawley (Calif.) News.

Another memorial dedicated to him also can be found in South Texas, about 40 miles west of San Antonio, in an out-of-the-way, rural cemetery where visitors can hear the wind “rattle” the seed packs in the thick brush.

In the small town of Hondo, Ligon served honorably in the world of sports. He was the founder and proprietor of “Ligon’s Baseball Club,” a black touring squad that traveled by bus to play games in 20 U.S. states and in three countries over a 15-year period through the early 1950s.

Appropriately, a marker at the Cottonwood Cemetery in rural Medina County is adorned with the team’s red, white and blue logo. A white ball, inside a red star, on a blue background. Clearly, the man loved his team, and he also loved his country, despite all of its flaws in the Jim Crow era.

“This is really the story of America,” said Laurence Ligon, a Maryland resident and the son of the man who ran the ball club. “It’s really our story. It’s not just one (racial) group. It doesn’t belong in one (category). It’s really everybody’s story.

“Because, for my father, one of the things that I can say, for all the slings and arrows that got thrown at him, he didn’t have (the capacity) to hate people. Or attack people. Or be angry with people.”

It’s a timeless lesson that is relevant today, even though George Ligon, Jr., was born in Texas in 1910 at a distinct disadvantage in society.

Regardless, the son of an Austin-area farmer soon started to make a name for himself, first as a baseball pitcher in Uvalde and then as a Hondo-based player/businessman whose enterprise gave others an opportunity to showcase their skills.

“At first,” George Ligon, Jr., said in a 1982 newspaper interview, “my brother (Rufus) and I played for a white fellow who owned a black team, and we played against white teams quite often.”

But, not always, because inter-racial games were controversial at the time. He told reporter Peter Odens of the Brawley (Calif.) News that the black teams in the area just couldn’t make it in a league of their own.

Owners of the white teams owned the ballparks, Ligon told Odens, and those owners charged the black teams 45 percent of “the total take” to play on their fields.

“It was a good league while it lasted,” Ligon told the newspaper. “Anyway, I started my own team in about 1937 and made it a traveling team. Had it for 15 years.”

Laurence Ligon said in a telephone interview that his father managed the team and drove the bus on trips that started in Hondo, led into the Midwest and then veered into the Rocky Mountains and Canada.

Later, the All-Stars traveled down the West Coast – and into Mexico.

“My dad told me some of the craziest stories,” Laurence Ligon said in a telephone interview. “Like, the brakes on the bus fell out. (Then) they … over-heated. And they ran the bus into a hay bale. And the farmer came out, and they had to help him re-bale the hay.

”I mean, all kinds of stuff like that. They were just (out there) running around on the plains.”

Because of all the time that has elapsed since this epic baseball venture began, a lack of first-hand information keeps anyone from knowing exactly how the team got its start.

For instance, what was the nature of the bus and the travel? When did Ligon buy the bus? It’s possible he purchased it in the 1930s because, during the Great Depression, many commercial bus companies were going out of business in the economic downturn.

Which leads to the possibility that Ligon could have negotiated a bargain buy at that time. If he didn’t, then it’s also plausible that maybe he just had to wait until after he returned from fighting in the Pacific theater of the war.

Maybe he finally made enough money in the Army to save up for the purchase. If that’s the case, then it was a high price to pay, because Laurence Ligon said he believes his father was wounded while fighting in Buna, on the island of New Guinea.

A team picture of Ligon’s Baseball Club. Photo, courtesy Laurence Ligon

The battle of Buna-Gola, according to historians, was a bloody, three-month jungle fight that started in November of 1942 and ended with an Allied forces victory in January of 1943. Many of the soldiers who survived came home with malaria.

“I don’t know if he volunteered or if he was drafted (into the Army),” Ligon said. “But he went to train at Fort Huachuca (Arizona). Then he went and fought against the Japanese and was wounded, somewhere in the islands around Guadalcanal. I think it was on Buna.

“So, he was discharged, came back, and, from like 1947 to ‘50 or ‘51, they were still traveling (with the baseball team).”

Apparently, Ligon wasn’t the only member of the All-Stars with a hard-scrabble background. A search of archives in the Hondo Anvil-Herald turned up information pointing to how Ligon assembled his team in the late 1940s with prospects who had known each other for years.

Several apparently first attended the town’s segregated school for blacks. When the Anvil-Herald in 1998 ran a story on a Ligon family reunion, it also published what was labeled as a 1939-40 class picture of the Hondo Colored School.

Included in the picture were students identified as Cleveland “Babe” Grant, Sterling Jasper Fuller and Roy “Banky” White. In a separate issue of the newspaper published to commemorate local World War II veterans, Fuller’s name was on the list of those who served.

The names of Grant, Fuller and White, in turn, were listed on baseball websites that chronicled the Ligon All-Stars’ games in Canada in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Meaning that, the players on those long bus rides out of Hondo, to Canada, and back again all shared a unique bond.

Some of them likely were neighbors as kids. Maybe a few of them walked to grade school together. At least one (Fuller) served in the military and all of them, to a man, loved to play the game – no matter what. They’d travel for hours on end knowing that, in some places in America, they just weren’t welcome.

“You have to know where they don’t want you (to play), and then … don’t play there,” recalled George Ligon, Jr., in the 1982 edition of the Brawley News.

Laurence Ligon, 60, a California native who lives in Maryland and works in computers, said he didn’t know much about the All Stars until a reporter showed up at the family’s home to interview his father in the early 1980s.

“I had heard some of those stories, but (with) the guy asking some pretty good questions, they sat there and talked for a good five hours,“ Ligon said. “And I started hearing a lot more about it.”

On and on went the conversation.

“I was blown away,” Laurence Ligon said, recalling the day his father laid it all out for the visiting reporter. “I just didn’t know that my dad had done all that.”

Ligon said he sometimes jokes about his “gypsy” heritage with friends and family.

“I tell guys, ‘That’s where I get this gypsy blood of mine,’ “ he said. “I love getting in the car and traveling. My dad drove the bus. He managed the team. He drove that bus from Hondo all the way up to Saskatchewan.

“Then they’d come over and play in California and go down into Mexico and play, and then head back to Hondo.”

In 1947, Jackie Robinson made headlines around the nation and changed the game when he broke the color barrier in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Around the same time, the Ligon All-Stars were putting in almost 200,000 miles on their bus over one four-year stretch.

Ligon’s Baseball Club would hit the road in a bus for trips that would carry them thousands of miles. Photo, courtesy Laurence Ligon

All the while, playing in front of some white fans who perhaps had never seen a black athlete on a baseball diamond. Cutting up. Having fun. Sometimes playing with a catcher who would tease the crowd by sitting behind home plate in a rocking chair.

“I have heard about that one, yes,” Laurence Ligon said with a laugh.

One day, Ligon said he hopes to return to Hondo to have some work done on the exterior of the old cemetery. He said he wants to preserve the peaceful setting, in a rural area a few miles north of Interstate 90, with head stones dating back to the Civil War.

“It’s a really nice (place),” he said. “I don’t know what (kind of) plants they have (on the grounds, but) I remember they’re like a bush, and at the very top (of the plant) it’s kind of heavy. They’ve got like a seed pack on the top, and when the wind blows, these seed packs kind of rattle.

“It just makes this really calming sort of noise. I go out there and I just want to sit down and just kind of take it all in. It’s really beautiful.”

Missions’ gesture of respect humbles Biz Mackey’s family

Jerseys worn by the San Antonio Missions on Saturday harkened back to the early 20th century, when baseball was segregated and Biz Mackey played minor league ball for the San Antonio Black Aces. Mackey went on to become a big-time star player in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, and as a player-manager in Newark, in the Negro Leagues. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The oldest professional sport in San Antonio, the one with perhaps the deepest roots in the culture of the city, hit a home run on Saturday night in tying the past to the present.

On a day of celebration for the recently-declared national holiday of Juneteenth, the Missions baseball club commemorated the Negro Leagues and honored a black ball player with local ties whose magnificent career went all but unnoticed for decades.

Houston resident Ray Mackey III talks about the career of his great uncle, Biz Mackey, who was inducted in 2006 into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Missions brought the family of the late James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey to Wolff Stadium so that they, and others connected to black baseball in the Alamo City, could get together and enjoy a ball game and a fireworks display.

It was a good feeling for Ray Mackey III and his two sons.

“This is really pretty extraordinary for me,” said Mackey III, the Hall of Fame catcher’s great nephew. “One of the things I share with my sons is that when you strive for excellence, it may not be rewarded right away. In Biz’s case, even during his lifetime.

“But excellence has a way of ultimately prevailing and sort of rising to the top. Like cream, it will rise to the top.”

Mackey was born in 1897 in Eagle Pass and grew up hoeing rows of cotton on a farm near Luling.

After playing a half-dozen years in semi-pro and minor-league circuits in Texas, including at least two with the San Antonio Black Aces, he joined the Indianapolis ABCs in 1920 in what was considered the first official season of the Negro Leagues.

His career spanned the so-called Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II before it ended in 1947. Known for his defensive prowess and strong arm as a catcher, Mackey also played shortstop and pitched. He hit .327 for his career, according to a statistics page in “Biz Mackey, a Giant Behind the Plate,” by author Rich Westcott.

In nine of those years, Mackey also managed, leading the Newark Eagles to a 1946 Colored World Series championship against the Kansas City Monarchs.

Mackey III, a Houston-based church pastor, attended ceremonies in Cooperstown in 2006 when his great uncle was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But coming back to San Antonio felt different.

“This means so much because this is where my family’s roots are,” he said. “You know, we’re from the Luling area. In fact, we just left Luling (where we were) eating barbeque near Prairie Lea, Lockhart, all around that area. So, that’s home to us.

“A lot of Mackeys moved to San Antonio, sort of migrated from Luling, for job opportunities and things.

“More importantly, the San Antonio Black Aces were (where he got) his start. So this is the foundation. This is where everything began for him. So, to look back in retrospect is just really meaningful. It’s really exciting. For him to have this honor, it’s just, it’s really heartfelt.”

The celebration had been in the planning stages for nearly a year and a half.

Last spring, Missions assistant general manager Bill Gerlt took on the project, trying to organize a day to honor the Negro Leagues’ centennial (1920-2020) in a meaningful way for South Texas.

Originally, he wanted to hold the event on June 20, 2020, but the minor league season was canceled because of the pandemic. Still, Gerlt persisted, arranging for the jerseys to be made with a San Antonio Black Aces logo on the front and a Negro Leagues centennial logo on one sleeve.

The logo, incidentally, is an image of Biz Mackey.

Gerlt also invited several former ball players, including Cliff Johnson, formerly of the Houston Astros, and members of the South Texas Negro Leagues ex-players association.

Missions’ shortstop CJ Abrams (left) and second baseman Eguy Rosario confer during Saturday night’s game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The Missions rallied with three runs in the seventh for a 6-5 victory. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Jerseys were to be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Texas Kidney Foundation.

“We were going to do this last year to celebrate the 100th anniversary but had to cancel it because of the Covid thing,” Gerlt said. “But, anyway, the timing worked out with Juneteenth becoming a national holiday. So, we’ve had a year and half of planning for this one event.”

Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said in an interview last year that Mackey’s likeness was chosen for the centennial logo because of his reputation as a dignified leader in the game.

“Biz is a very important player in regard to Negro League history,” Kendrick said. “He’s arguably the greatest defensive catcher of all time. If … Roy Campanella (were) still alive, he’d tell you that Biz Mackey is the greatest defensive catcher that he had ever seen.

“And, again, as we were trying to convey what we wanted this centennial to reflect, and how important the Negro Leagues were, I think the entire dignified persona (was) something that we wanted.”

Swimming trials: Andrew wins 200 IM to claim a second victory

Make way for one of the newest stars in U.S. swimming. Michael Andrew won the 200 individual medley Friday night for his second victory of the week in the Olympic Trials.

With the outcome, it means that Andrew will swim both the 100 breaststroke and the 200 IM in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Chase Kalisz finished second and likely earned his second invitation to compete in an individual event in Japan.

Kieran Smith was third, with 19-year-old University of Texas star Carson Foster fourth and Sam Stewart fifth.

On the sixth night of the Trials at Omaha, Nebraska, the 200 IM was also significant in that it may have been the swan song for one of the greatest swimmers in U.S. history — Ryan Lochte.

Lochte, bidding to make his fifth Olympic team, finished seventh.

Two from Texas A&M fall short

Former Texas A&M standout Bethany Galat finished fourth in the 200 breaststroke and Shaine Casas, a rising A&M senior, came in sixth in the 200 backstroke Friday night.

Annie Lazor won the 200 breast in 2:21.07, followed by 2016 Olympic champion Lilly King in 2:21.75. The victory will send Lazor to the Olympics for the first time while King, who won both the 100 and 200 at Rio, will be swimming both events in Japan, as well. The top two spots were up for grabs until the final 20 meters when Lazor and King held off both Emily Escobedo, who was third in 2:22.64, and Galat, who was next in 2:22.81.

In the second of four event finals of the evening, Ryan Murphy won his second title of the week in the 200 backstroke after claiming the 100 back on Tuesday. He swam 1:54.20, allowing former UT star Aaron Peirsol to hang on to his world and American record (1:51.92) and also his U.S. record (1:53.08). Bryce Mefford claimed second at 1:54.79 and likely secured the second U.S. team berth from the event. Swimming in lane eight, Casas finished sixth in 1:57.64, his best of three races in the event in the past two days.

Friday’s finals
Women’s 200 breaststroke — Annie Lazor, 2:21.07; Lilly King, 2:21.75.
Men’s 200 backstroke — Ryan Murphy, 1:54.20; Bryce Mefford, 1:54.79.
Men’s 200 individual medley — Michael Andrew, 1:55.44; Chase Kalisz, 1:56.97.
Women’s 100 freestyle — Abbey Weitziel, 53.53; Erika Brown, 53.59; Olivia Smoliga, 53.63; Natalie Hinds, 53.84; Catie DeLoof, 53.87; Allison Schmitt, 54.12.

Thursday
Men’s 800 freestyle — Bobby Finke, 7:48.22; Michael Brinegar, 7:49.94.
Men’s 200 breaststroke — Nic Fink, 2:07.55; Andrew Wilson, 2:08.32.
Women’s 200 butterfly — Hali Flickinger, 2:05.85; Regan Smith, 2:06.99.
Men’s 100 freestyle — Caeleb Dressel, 47.39; Zach Apple, 47.72; Blake Pieroni, 48.16, Brooks Curry, 48.19; Bowe Becker, 48.22; Ryan Held, 48.46.

Wednesday
Women’s 200 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 1:55.11; Allison Schmitt, 1:56.79; Paige Madden, 1:56.80; Katie McLaughlin, 1:57.16; Bella Sims, 1:57.53; Brooke Forde, 1:57.61
Men’s 200 butterfly — Zach Harting, 1:55.06; Gunnar Bentz, 1:55.34.
Women’s 200 IM — Alex Walsh, 2:09.30; Kate Douglass, 2:09.32
Women’s 1,500 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 15:40.50; Erica Sullivan, 15:51.18

Tuesday
Men’s 200 freestyle — Kieran Smith, 1:45.29; Townley Haas, 1:45.66; Jay Kibler, 1:45.92; Andrew Seliskar, 1:46.34; Zach Apple, 1:46.45; Patrick Callan, 1:46.49
Women’s 100 backstroke — Regan Smith, 58.35; Rhyan White, 58.60
Men’s 100 backstroke — Ryan Murphy, 52.33; Hunter Armstrong, 52.48
Women’s 100 breaststroke — Lilly King, 1:04.79; Lydia Jacoby, 1:05.28

Monday
Women’s 100 butterfly — Torrie Huske, 55.66; Claire Curzan, 56.43
Men’s 100 breaststroke — Michael Andrew, 58.73; Andrew Wilson, 58.74
Women’s 400 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 4:01.27; Paige Madden, 4:04.86

Sunday
Men’s 400 IM — Chase Kalisz, 4:09.09; Jay Litherland, 4:10.33.
Men’s 400 freestyle — Kieran Smith, 3:44.86; Jake Mitchell, 3:48.17
Women’s 400 IM — Emma Weyant, 4:33.81; Hali Flickinger, 4:33.96

Swimming trials: Dressel blows away the field in 100 freestyle

U.S. swimming sensation Caeleb Dressel won easily in the 100-meter freestyle Thursday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Dressel held a slim lead at 50 meters and then turned it on for an easy victory in his first win this week at Omaha, Nebraska.

Leading by only two tenths of a second at the turn, the 24-year-old Floridian cut a swath through the water in the final 50 meters and pulled away from seven others in the race, hitting the wall in a U.S. Open record of 47.39 seconds.

Zach Apple (47.72) finished in second, with Blake Pieroni (48.16) and 20-year-old Brooks Curry (48.19) in third and fourth, respectively The outcome means that Dressel and Apple will qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games and will swim as individuals in the 100. Pieroni and Curry also made the Olympic team on the 4×100 relay.

Coming in fifth and sixth were Bowe Becker (48.22) and Ryan Held (48.46), with both having a shot at being named to the team to fill out the relay pool.

Dressel, from Green Cove Springs, Fla., hopes to dominate the Trials in coming days in a quest to swim in six or seven events — including relays — at Tokyo. He is expected to compete in the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly in coming days. In the 100 butterfly, he holds the world record.

San Antonio fans may remember Dressel as an athlete who competed in 2015 at the Phillips 66 nationals at the Northside Swim Center. Dressel went on to star at Florida. He was the national swimmer of the year in 2018 for the Gators.

Andrew’s big week

Swimming in the 200 IM semifinals, Michael Andrew posted the fastest time in the world this year at 1 minute and 55.26 seconds. Earlier in the week, he set the American record twice in the 100 breaststroke and went on to win that event to qualify for his first Olympic team. Now he’s in position to win his second event. He’s even getting close to Ryan Lochte’s world record time of 1:54. Andrew will be in the 200 IM finals with Lochte on Friday night. Others in the field will be Chase Kalisz, Kieran Smith and 19-year-old University of Texas star Carson Foster.

Licon’s heartbreak

On the fifth night of the Trials, former University of Texas standout Will Licon narrowly missed out on a trip to the Olympics. Licon, 26, originally from El Paso’s Vista Ridge High School, finished in third place in the 200-meter breaststroke. Nic Fink (two minutes and 7.55 seconds) was the winner and Andrew Wilson (2:08.32) was second. Charging hard at the end, Licon touched in 2:08.50. In doing so, he missed making the team by 18 hundredths of a second. In 2016, he finished third in the 200 breast by 14 hundredths.

Casas advances

Meanwhile, Texas A&M’s top prospect at the Trials — Shaine Casas — advanced through the preliminaries and the semifinals of the 200 backstroke and barely made it into the finals, which will be contested Friday night. Casas, 21, possibly the most accomplished swimmer to come out of the Rio Grande Valley, started his day in the wake of a heart-breaking, third-place finish earlier in the week in the 100 backstroke.

In making his Trials debut on Monday and Tuesday, the former McAllen High School star made it through two rounds of the 100 backstroke. But in the finals, he came within 28 hundredths of a second from second place and a probable trip to Tokyo. Coming into Thursday, Casas had the third best qualifying time in the 200 back at 1:55.79 in the 200, behind only Ryan Murphy and Austin Katz. In the morning preliminaries, he was ninth overall in 1:59.52.

In the night semifinals, Casas moved out to a good start, touching in second place at the 50-meter turn. But in the final 150, he fell back to fourth or fifth for most of the remainder of the race, finally finishing fifth in 1:58.48. When the times were shuffled, Casas had secured the eighth and final spot in the finals.

Flickinger’s record

Hali Flickinger qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by winning the 200 butterfly. In doing so, the 26-year-old from Spring Grove, Pa., set a U.S. Open record with a time of 2:05.85. A U.S. Open record is one that is established in a U.S. swimming venue. She remains quite a ways away from the American record of 2:04.14 set by Mary Mohler in 2009. Flickinger, who swam collegiately at Georgia, likely made the team earlier this week with a second place in the 400 individual medley. Her showing in the butterfly clinched it.

(Here is a recap of the 1-2 finishers in each event final through five nights of the Trials. For the 200- and 100-freestyle, we’ll include the top six finishers.)

Thursday
Men’s 800 freestyle — Bobby Finke, 7:48.22; Michael Brinegar, 7:49.94.
Men’s 200 breaststroke — Nic Fink, 2:07.55; Andrew Wilson, 2:08.32.
Women’s 200 butterfly — Hali Flickinger, 2:05.85; Regan Smith, 2:06.99.
Men’s 100 freestyle — Caeleb Dressel, 47.39; Zach Apple, 47.72; Blake Pieroni, 48.16, Brooks Curry, 48.19; Bowe Becker, 48.22; Ryan Held, 48.46.

Wednesday
Women’s 200 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 1:55.11; Allison Schmitt, 1:56.79; Paige Madden, 1:56.80; Katie McLaughlin, 1:57.16; Bella Sims, 1:57.53; Brooke Forde, 1:57.61
Men’s 200 butterfly — Zach Harting, 1:55.06; Gunnar Bentz, 1:55.34.
Women’s 200 IM — Alex Walsh, 2:09.30; Kate Douglass, 2:09.32
Women’s 1,500 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 15:40.50; Erica Sullivan, 15:51.18

Tuesday
Men’s 200 freestyle — Kieran Smith, 1:45.29; Townley Haas, 1:45.66; Jay Kibler, 1:45.92; Andrew Seliskar, 1:46.34; Zach Apple, 1:46.45; Patrick Callan, 1:46.49
Women’s 100 backstroke — Regan Smith, 58.35; Rhyan White, 58.60
Men’s 100 backstroke — Ryan Murphy, 52.33; Hunter Armstrong, 52.48
Women’s 100 breaststroke — Lilly King, 1:04.79; Lydia Jacoby, 1:05.28

Monday
Women’s 100 butterfly — Torrie Huske, 55.66; Claire Curzan, 56.43
Men’s 100 breaststroke — Michael Andrew, 58.73; Andrew Wilson, 58.74
Women’s 400 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 4:01.27; Paige Madden, 4:04.86

Sunday
Men’s 400 IM — Chase Kalisz, 4:09.09; Jay Litherland, 4:10.33.
Men’s 400 freestyle — Kieran Smith, 3:44.86; Jake Mitchell, 3:48.17
Women’s 400 IM — Emma Weyant, 4:33.81; Hali Flickinger, 4:33.96

Olympic Trials swimming: Two from UT headed to Tokyo, while two from A&M fall short

Two swimmers with University of Texas ties qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games on Tuesday night. Two others from Texas A&M came up agonizingly short.

It all unfolded on Day 3 of the U.S. Olympic Trials, as former UT athlete Townley Haas and current standout Drew Kibler made the U.S. team in the hotly-contested 200-meter freestyle.

Meanwhile, three-time NCAA champion and rising A&M senior Shaine Casas finished third in the 100 backstroke, while former A&M swimmer Bethany Galat was fourth in the 100 breaststroke.

Both needed a second-place finish to have a shot at making the team in their respective events.

With four finals playing out at the Trials on the meet’s third day in Omaha, Nebraska, University of Florida star Kieran Smith stole the show and won the title in the 200 free, covering the distance in one minute and 45.29 seconds.

Haas, the 2016 U.S. Trials champion and a relay gold medalist from the Rio Olympics, swam a 1:45.66 for second place to edge out Kibler, who placed third in a personal best 1:45.92. Fourth went to Andrew Seliskar in 1:46.34.

The outcome means that Smith and Haas are in line to swim in the 200 as individuals in Japan.

Kibler and Seliskar will be ticketed for the 4×200 relay. In addition, fifth-place Zach Apple (1:46.45) and No. 6 Patrick Callan (1:46.49) also could earn a spot on the team, likely for the relay preliminaries.

Smith, from Ridgefield, Conn., is a rising senior at the University of Florida. He’s also the first double winner at the Trials, having won the 400 free on Sunday night.

Finals notes

In other finals, the Nos. 1-2 finishers included Regan Smith and Rhyan White in the women’s 100 backstroke; Ryan Murphy and Hunter Armstrong in the men’s 100 back and Lilly King and Lydia Jacoby in the women’s 100 breaststroke.

Two from Texas

Haas, 25, originally from Richmond, Va., swam for the Longhorns from 2016-19. He won gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro in a 4×200 relay unit with Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Individually, Haas finished fifth in the 200 at Rio in 1:45.58. Kibler is a rising UT senior from Carmel, Ind. In March, he earned All-America honors for the Longhorns’ NCAA championship team in the 100, 200 and 500 freestyles, and also in the 4×100 and 4×200 free relays.

A close call

Coming into the meet, Casas had the second-fastest qualifying time in the 100 back and momentum from three individual titles that he won at the NCAA meet earlier this year. But in the first Trials event-final of his career, things didn’t work out for him.

He was first to the wall at the 50-meter mark and then couldn’t hang on. Illinois native Murphy, 25, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, finished first in 52.33 seconds. Armstrong, 20, from Dover, Ohio, was second at 52.48. Casas, 21, from McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley, placed third at 52.76.

Murphy, who won three golds in the 2016 Summer Games, holds the world record in the 100 back at 51.85. Which means that Casas, whose personal record is 52.72, ranks as one of the best in the world in the event — just not quite fast enough to swim it in Tokyo.

Casas is expected to have another shot at making the team. According to the plan coming into Omaha, he is expected to swim at least one more event this week, the 200 backstroke, which will be contested on Thursday and Friday.

Can’t beat the King

Lilly King was fully expected to win the 100 breaststroke — and she did.

The 2016 Olympic champion raced to a 1:04.79 finish in the finals Tuesday night. Teenager Lydia Jacoby was second at 1:05.28, putting herself in position for a berth on the team.

On the outside looking in, Annie Lazor was third 1:05.60 and former A&M star Bethany Galat fourth in 1:05.75. With the time, Galat lowered her own Aggie Swim Club record.

Texas A&M’s Casas advances to finals in the 100 backstroke

Shaine Casas traveled to Nebraska to prove that he’s more than just “a kid,” swimming for Texas A&M. He wants to be an Olympian, and to be known as one of the best at what he does in the world.

So far, so good, for the 21-year-old from the Rio Grande Valley.

The former McAllen High School standout on Monday advanced through two rounds of the 100-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials, qualifying with the third fastest time going into the finals, which will be contested on Tuesday night.

Two years ago, Casas won the 100 back at the U.S. nationals. In the spring, he turned heads again by winning three individual events for the Aggies at the NCAA championships.

At that point, his focus turned to long-course training with an eye on his first trip to the Trials and, hopefully, his first trip to the Olympic Games.

To reach Tokyo, the former age-group prodigy for the McAllen Swim Club will need to step it up a notch.

Entering the Trials, he had a qualifying time in the 100 back at 52.72 seconds, which ranked second in the field. Casas showed up for his first race Monday morning and raced to a 53.08, which was tied for third.

In the semifinals Monday night, he had a strong start in leading his heat from the outset and into the turn at 100 meters.

But down the stretch, Hunter Armstrong started to gain on him. In the final 20 meters, Casas veered toward one of the lane dividers and, in his last strokes, had to correct his direction.

Armstrong surged and hit the wall ahead of him. When the final times for the two semifinals were tallied, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy was first at 52.22. Armstrong was second at 52.67 and Casas was third at 52.77.

On Tuesday night, it will be tough to top Murphy, the world-record holder at 51.85. At the same time, second place and a spot on the Olympic team is well within reach for the 21-year-old Casas, who now has two Trials swims under his belt.

Casas is also expected to swim the 200 backstroke, which will be contested on Thursday and Friday.

Trials notes

The UT swimming program on Tuesday night will have a good shot at landing one of its own on the Olympic team. Townley Haas is the third qualifier in the men’s 200 freestyle.

Haas is a former Longhorn swimmer who won the 200 at the Trials in 2016 and placed fifth at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Current UT swimmer Drew Kibler is the fourth qualifier. In order to fill out the relay rosters, as many as six athletes in the men’s and women’s 100 and 200 freestyle events could get the Olympics tickets.

For all other events, a top two finish is necessary. Also, this year, second place is not necessarily a guarantee because of the addition of the 800 freestyle for men and the 1,500 free for women. UT’s Carson Foster, 19, narrowly missed making the team Sunday night with a third-place finish in the 400 individual medley.

Other former Texas A&M swimmers qualifying into Tuesday night finals were Bethany Galat in the 100 breaststroke and Lisa Bratton in the 100 back.

In event finals held Monday night, the Nos. 1-2 finishers included teenagers Torri Huske and Claire Curzan in the women’s 100 butterfly, Michael Andrew and Andrew Wilson in the men’s 100 breaststroke and veteran Katie Ledecky and Paige Madden in the women’s 400 freestyle.

Former San Antonio area high school athletes competing in Wave II of the trials are Zach Yeadon, Mikey Calvillo and Sarah Gibson. Yeadon and Gibson attended Reagan High School. Calvillo is from O’Connor.

Texas A&M’s Casas chases his Olympic swimming dream

Aggies backstroke specialist Shaine Casas, a rising senior from McAllen, has emerged as a contender to make the U.S. Olympic team. – Photo By Ikeah Roque/Texas A&M Athletics

By Jerry Briggs
Special report, for The JB Replay

This time last year, Texas A&M swimmer Shaine Casas had a good feeling about his chances of making the U.S. Olympic team.

Even with all the uncertainty brought on by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the former grade-school-age prodigy with the McAllen Swim Club and prep star at McAllen High School knew what he had to do to get himself ready.

Shaine Casas is expected to swim both the 100- and the 200-meter backstrokes at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha. — Photo, courtesy Texas A&M

Then, when officials made the decision to push the Tokyo Games back by a year, Casas just shrugged and tried to re-set mentally.

“Initially, whenever it first happened, it’s frustration and kind of like disappointment, because I felt confident in the way I was swimming,” Casas said in a zoom conference on Monday afternoon. “I thought I had a great shot, regardless. But, in hindsight, looking at it, I realized that it gave me more time.

“It just gave me more time to take out the guess-work … And now I can be confident and sure in myself that I can make the team, and that I’ve taken basically every opportunity to do it.

“So, I guess I’m satisfied that I get this other chance, a year later, even though, obviously, I would have loved to (have been) an Olympian a year ago. But if I can make it next week, you know, that will still be worth the wait.”

Casas, one of the fastest-rising stars in American swimming, will get his chance when the second and final phase of the Olympic Trials opens Sunday and runs through June 20 in Omaha, Nebraska.

How good is he?

In a testament to his versatility and athleticism, the rising senior at A&M has qualified for eight events, including the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyle, the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 100 and 200 backstroke, and the 200 individual medley.

“He could swim any of those, which is pretty incredible by itself,” Aggies coach Jay Holmes said. “But the way the order of events is (laid out), we really have to choose. And so, the 100- and the 200-back are the ones we know he’s going to be in, at least right now, as of today.

“We do have some options, but in the order of events, the 200 IM and the 200 back are almost impossible to do together. Ryan Lochte’s done it in the trials before, but he’s incredibly seasoned. We know Shaine is capable of doing that double.

“But also, we feel like we really need to choose the best places for him to make the team.

Casas recently won three individual gold medals — in the 100- and 200-backstroke and the 200 individual medley — at the NCAA championships. — Photo, courtesy Texas A&M

“Also, you have prelims, semifinals and finals, so the 100 and 200 back are the only ones we know of. I doubt he is going to try to double the 200 IM and the 200 back. You just have to be so elite. To do that back to back, with very little rest (in between), is crazy almost.”

With the 100 and 200 backstrokes dominated by 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy and several others who are among the fastest in the world, Casas will face the ultimate test of his readiness. Only two athletes will make the Olympic team in what are considered his strongest events.

Even so, Olympic swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said he thinks Casas can make the team.

“If I was a betting man, I definitely would not bet against Shaine Casas,” Gaines said after Casas won three events at the NCAA Championships earlier this year. “There’s just no way I would bet against that. I think he’s going to make it in one or two events.”

Born in San Diego, Calif., Casas moved with his family to South Texas, where he took up the sport as a grade-schooler in the McAllen Swim Club.

Former MSC coach Roxanne Balducci said in a telephone interview that, from her recollection, Casas started with her team at about age eight and continued through 14.

Shaine Casas of the McAllen Swim Club, from a photo taken in either 2010 and 2011, when he was in grade school. — Photo, courtesy MSC

“He came so many times a week because he was also into basketball at the time,” said Balducci, who lives in Florida. “So, he would swim some days, go to basketball some days. Either come to swimming late or leave swimming early to go to basketball, because that was his other love, and he just kept getting better and better.

“He went to (state competition in) TAGS, at 12-14 (and) then he made the Southern Zone team. He was just very strong for his age. You know, it took a while to build up his strokes. But once he did that, he just took off.”

His rise was rapid. In 2017, Casas took second place in a couple of events at the Class 6A state meet for McAllen High School. A little more than a year later, he was swimming on scholarship at Texas A&M.

By the summer of 2019, Casas really turned heads, winning a title in the 100-meter backstroke at the Phillips 66 Summer Nationals. He also placed second in the 200 back and the 200 IM.

The pandemic set him back, but only briefly, because he more than made up for lost time in March when he won three individual titles for the Aggies at the NCAA meet.

Given his body of work, Casas has seriously challenged the notion that swimmers from the Valley can’t compete at the highest level. Balducci acknowledged that it is rare for the RGV to produce a swimmer like Casas.

“Unfortunately, yes,” she said. “You know, it would be nice if we had the same type of facilities that other places in the state had, or other places in the country. But, you know, if you are determined enough, if you have got that little extra spark, nothing will stop you.

“You have stories like (former three-time Olympian) Ian Crocker. He came from somewhere in New England, from a four-lane pool. If you’ve got what it takes, and you’re willing to put in the effort, it can be done. I agree. It is rare. It would be nice if it happened a little more often.”

Shaine Casas (front row, third from right) holds a ‘hot ‘n spicy’ spirit sign and poses with teammates on the McAllen Swim Club. — Photo, courtesy MSC.

Hector Becerra, who lives in the Valley and manages the McAllen Swim Club today, said Casas’ rise in stature can only help an area hard hit by the virus over the past year.

“We’re rooting for him,” Becerra said. “The fact that somebody from our area is at that level, is really exciting for us. If he were to make the Olympic team, it would just … it would generate a lot of buzz, a lot of interest for us down here.

“Not to mention it would really stir a lot of enthusiasm in a lot of our (club) kids. Coming out of a pandemic … I can’t think of any way better to lift the spirits of our South Texas region, than to have him make the team.”

Likewise, the A&M program could use a boost in its battle with Texas for the top swimmers in the state. Guided by outgoing coach Eddie Reese, UT has long held the upper hand, in terms of dominance in college men’s swimming.

If Casas can make some noise next week, perhaps young athletes will start to look at the Aggies differently.

“Shaine is just one of those rare talents,” Holmes said. “I’ve certainly never coached anyone like him, as versatile as he is. For us, it’s fun to coach him, because you can put him in almost any situation and he’s going to be trying to figure out ways to win it.

“He’s very confident. He always has been very confident, even coming out of McAllen. McAllen has had some swimmers go D-I before. But, coming out of McAllen with the times he had, and being able to do the things he was doing, already, we thought he could be pretty special.

“He’s a fun guy to coach. You could put him in almost any situation, and he really believes he can beat just about anybody, anytime, in almost anything.”

Casas said he feels more confident in himself now than this time last year.

“I have more high competition experience,” he said. “Going into it last year, my biggest meet was (2019) nationals, and that was more of a light year. You know there was not too many superstars there. So it was just me, doing my thing, and I was able to win.

“ … Now having the NCAA championship, and winning at the biggest stage collegiately, I think that gave me confidence at practice, racing at a high level, that I needed for this meet.”

Going into the NCAA meet in North Carolina a few months ago, Casas was expected to win, and he delivered with victories in the 100 back, the 200 back and the 200 IM. He said if he hadn’t been able to pull that off, he might have felt more unease going into the Trials.

Asked pointedly what gives him the confidence that he will shine the brightest “with the lights as bright as they’re going to be,” Casas didn’t hesitate in delivering his answer.

“That’s just what I do,” he said. “That’s what I train to do. It’s what I plan to do. I visualize doing that, so … “ Casas didn’t finish the thought, but he did continue to address what the meet means to him in the big picture.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’ve been talking about this for years. Like, whenever I won nationals and I entered kind of the room for discussion about possible Olympians or medalists … you know, I had been preparing for that and planning for that, and that motivated me every single day at practice.

“I want to make it. I want to do well. I want to represent the U.S. So, I’m excited to hopefully enter the new stage of my life where people know who I am, and my name becomes an international name, and I’m not just a kid, swimming at Texas A&M.

“Maybe,” he added, “I’m the guy that swam for Team USA and did well.”

Olympic Trials schedule
June 13-20, at Omaha, Nebraska
Eye on Shaine Casas
Men’s 100 backstroke — Preliminaries in the morning and semifinals at night, on Monday, June 14. Finals on Tuesday night, June 15.
Men’s 200 backstroke — Preliminaries in the morning and semifinals at night on Thursday, June 17. Finals on Friday, June 18.

McAllen Swim Club director Hector Becerra on Shaine Casas: ‘Coming out of a pandemic … I can’t think of any way better to lift the spirits of our South Texas region, than to have him make the (U.S. Olympic) team.’

Texas Tech wins regional; Jace Jung OK after mishap

Texas Tech infielder Jace Jung, the Big 12 player of the year from San Antonio, shook off a first-inning injury, went on to get two hits and scored two runs Sunday night as the Red Raiders beat the UCLA Bruins 8-2 to win the NCAA Lubbock Regional.

The incident unfolded after the Bruins came to bat in the bottom of the first.

Leading off, UCLA’s Kevin Kendall doubled down the left field line. Pat Caulfield, the next batter, followed with a bunt. As a result, Texas Tech pitcher Mason Montgomery fielded it and fired to first. Jung, who plays second base, was covering on the play.

The low throw led him into the base path where he gloved the ball just as Caulfield was approaching the bag. Caulfield’s knee appeared to hit Jung in the side of the head.

Jung remained on the base path holding his head for a few moments before Tech officials came out of the dugout to see if he was OK.

Initially, it appeared that he might be coming out of the game, but after he left the field briefly with a trainer, he came back out to the applause of the home fans at Dan Law Field.

As for the outcome of the play, Kendall moved up to third base. But umpires reviewed the play and ruled Caulfield out. Kendall later scored on a sacrifice fly as the Bruins took a 1-0 lead.

In his next plate appearance, in the third inning, Jung laced a single to right field and later scored during a three-run uprising. He added a bunt single and another run scored in the fifth. Texas Tech went on to win easily for its third straight victory of the weekend.

Jung, a redshirt freshman from San Antonio’s MacArthur High School, finished the night 2 for 5 at the plate. He entered the NCAA playoffs as one of the nation’s leaders in home runs and RBIs.

NCAA results

Lubbock Regional — Texas Tech wins the regional. The Red Raiders, top seeded in Lubbock and No. 8 in the nation, beat the Bruins behind five innings of two-run, two-hit pitching from Montgomery. Texas Tech will host either Stanford or UC Irvine in the Super Regional next week.

Fort Worth Regional — Oregon State eliminated TCU 3-2 in an afternoon game and then beat Dallas Baptist 5-4 in the nightcap. The win in the second game came on a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth by Garret Forrester. Oregon State and Dallas Baptist will play for the regional title Monday. TCU was the No. 1 seed in the region and No. 6 in the nation.

Austin Regional — Fairfield stayed alive in the tournament by defeating Arizona State 9-7 in a Sunday afternoon game. Texas downed Fairfield 12-2 in the nightcap to complete a 3-0 sweep and the title. The Longhorns, top seeded in the region and No. 2 in the nation, scored in double digits in each of its three games in the playoffs. UT host the Super Regional next week against either South Alabama or South Florida.

Oregon State ousts TCU from NCAA tournament

The season is over for the TCU Horned Frogs.

The Oregon State Beavers beat TCU 3-2 Sunday afternoon to eliminate the Big 12 co-champions from the NCAA’s Fort Worth Regional.

TCU entered the tournament with high hopes, seeded sixth nationally and first in the region after sharing the Big 12 regular-season title with the Texas Longhorns and then winning conference’s postseason title last weekend in Oklahoma City.

After trouncing McNeese State 12-4 Friday night, the Horned Frogs started to stumble Saturday, giving up a four-run lead and losing 8-6 to Dallas Baptist.

On Sunday, they were tied with Oregon State going into the ninth, but they gave up the winning run when Justin Boyd singled off reliever Haylen Green to drive in Kyle Dernedde from second base.

After reaching on a hit by pitch, Dernedde stole second to set up the winning play. Oregon State reliever Mitchell Verburg pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out the Horned Frogs, who were limited to three hits on the day.

NCAA results

Fort Worth Regional — Oregon State 3, TCU 2 (elimination game). Oregon State advances to play Sunday night against the Dallas Baptist Patriots, who can clinch their first regional title in 10 years with a victory. For the Beavers to advance, they’ll need to win Sunday and again on Monday night.

Austin Regional — Fairfield 9, Arizona State 7 (elimination game). Fairfield advances to play top-seeded Texas Sunday night. Texas, No. 2 nationally, can win the regional with a victory. Fairfield needs to win twice, once Sunday and again on Monday.

Lubbock Regional — UCLA 12, North Carolina 2 (elimination game). UCLA advances to play top-seeded Texas Tech Sunday night. Texas Tech, No. 8 nationally, can win the regional with a victory. UCLA needs to win twice, once Sunday and again on Monday.

Surprising Patriots could clinch Super Regional berth tonight

The Dallas Baptist Patriots have emerged as the story of the weekend in terms of the three NCAA baseball tournament regionals being contested in the state of Texas.

Dallas Baptist is a story unique in itself because the university sponsors only baseball at the Division I level, with the rest of its sports teams in NCAA Division II.

Now, the Patriots have distinguished themselves further by taking control of the regional in Fort Worth, beating the Oregon State Beavers and the host TCU Horned Frogs in the past few days.

Of the four teams that started the weekend double-elimination tournament at TCU’s Lupton Stadium, McNeese State (0-2) was the first to be eliminated.

Oregon State and TCU (both 1-1) will play for survival today at 1 p.m. The winner will move on to face Dallas Baptist tonight at 6.

If the the Frogs lose to the Beavers, it would be a shocker felt nationwide. TCU won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title and the Big 12 tournament. It entered the postseason seeded sixth nationally.

Whatever happens, either team from the loser’s bracket will have its hands full, needing a win tonight and Monday to stay alive. That might not be too easy, all things considered.

Coach Dan Heefner’s Patriots, the Missouri Valley Conference champions, are a hot team right now. They’ve won six in a row in a playoff setting.

In addition, Dallas Baptist has won five of six meetings this season against power conference opponents and eight of 10 against the Top 25. On Saturday, the Patriots stunned the Frogs. Down by four runs late in the game, they rallied for five in the seventh inning and one in the eighth to win it.

Christian Boulware, a Dallas-area player in high school, sparked the five-run uprising with a three-run double.

“Our dugout is awesome,” Boulware told reporters. “We are never out of a game. Coach Heefner told us, ‘You have nine outs to make this happen.’ Early on in my at bat, I was just trying to get a pitch I could hit. I knew he had to come at me with a fastball and he did. I was just able to get my barrel to it.

“Everyone is so prepared on our team and that was big time.”

Historically, the Patriots have been a fixture in NCAA tournament first-weekend competition. They’ve played in regionals in nine of their past 10 completed seasons.

Moreover, they’ve reached regional finals in six straight seasons (2014-19). The last time they failed to make a regional final, they missed the NCAA playoffs altogether, in 2013, when the UTSA Roadrunners knocked them out of the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Grand Prairie.

NCAA schedule in Texas

Austin Regional — Arizona State vs. Fairfield, 1 p.m. (elimination game). Winner faces Texas, 8 p.m.

Lubbock Regional — North Carolina vs. UCLA, 2 p.m. (elimination game). Winner faces Texas Tech, 6 p.m.

Fort Worth Regional — Oregon State vs. TCU, 1 p.m. (elimination game). Winner faces Dallas Baptist, 6 p.m.