They’re the high school metro team which has dominated the first half of district play with four 10-run mercy rule wins – and they’re not the Randall Raiders.
But there’s a good chance you might get to see the Bushland Falcons playing on a diamond near you, just not their own.
With construction of a new field underway and not available for the remainder of the 2022-23 school year, Bushland is a team without a home. It hasn’t hurt the product on the field one bit, though, as the Falcons are 17-3 and 4-0 atop District 1-3A and still look like the prohibitive favorite to win the district.
Not having a home field to play or practice on can’t be considered any kind of an advantage, but the Falcons aren’t thinking about what they don’t have right now.
“It will be nice when it’s done, but this year it’s make the best of the situation and that’s what we told the kids,” said Bushland coach Joel Love of having to wait until next year to play home games on campus. “We weren’t going to make excuses. I’ll be real honest, to try to get a group of 15, 16, 17-year-old kids to stay focused every single day of practice and play, they’ve done more than I could ask for.”
That’s happened no matter where the Falcons have played for most of this season. Last week they were the “home” team for two district games, playing Tuesday at Amarillo High’s Sandie Field and Friday at none other than Hodgetown, more commonly occupied by the Amarillo Sod Poodles.
The results were pretty much the same as they had been before last week. Bushland crushed Tulia 26-0 on Tuesday, then Friday at Hodgetown the Falcons routed Dimmitt 12-0, continuing a string of five-inning run-rule wins against 1-3A foes to four straight, not to mention holding district opponents to 19 consecutive innings without a run.
So, it’s been business as usual for the perennially strong Bushland program. But if the results have been the same, the routine hasn’t.
“I was more worried about practice than I was playing,” Love said. “We get used to playing on the road anyway, and when you get in the playoffs, every game is usually on the road. I was really, really worried about the practice side of things. We had to iron out some things there and thankfully coach (Randon) Johnson at Amarillo High has helped out a lot. I’m so grateful for his generosity and working with us.”
It helps that Love was an assistant to Johnson at Bushland before taking over as head coach in 2019 when Johnson left for Amarillo High. It means that the Falcons have been able to use Sandie Field or the AHS campus for some workouts since it’s the closest facility to Bushland.
The Falcons have stayed on campus to use the indoor athletic barn with batting cages and bullpens. There’s also a sandy makeshift Little League field near campus used for infield practices.
This nomadic existence hasn’t impacted the Falcons in the win column.
“It changes a little bit but you just have to adapt to wherever you’re heading to practice,” said senior shortstop Josh Bass, a three-year starter who anchors Bushland’s lineup. “You just have to keep your focus at 100 percent. If you do that you’ll get better wherever you practice at, and I feel we’ve done that this season.”
That means a heightened sense of urgency in just making it to practice.
“We have six minutes to get on the bus when the bell rings,” Love said. “You have to be a little bit more organized and on top of your game to be productive when you’re at practice.”
By now, the Falcons have gotten used to it. That’s likely because there really isn’t any choice.
With no true home base, the routine has had to change.
“I’m kind of surprised at how well we’ve been doing especially since we don’t have a home field at our school,” junior pitcher Cannon Melban said. “Practicing at Amarillo High is really challenging for us.”
Melban picked up Bushland’s most recent win against Dimmitt at Hodgetown. He gave up three singles and struck out 12.
That marked the first of two home games the Falcons will play at Hodgetown this season. On April 18, they’ll host Friona while hosting other district games against River Road and Dalhart at Amarillo High.
When Love found out last summer that Bushland’s home field wouldn’t be available this spring, Hodgetown was on his radar as an alternate site.
“We had brought it up from the beginning because we knew it was going to be a challenge,” Love said. “You have Amarillo College and the Sod Poodles here, so you’re working around two schedules. They’ve been super great to work with here considering the situation we were put in.”
Love informed his team of its predicament without a home facility before the season began. While the practice routine had been shifted, the Falcons were quite receptive over the prospects of playing at Hodgetown.
“It was a good reaction,” Bass said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to come play out here. It’s a great field and a great environment. It feels nice to play here.
“It does have a big-time feeling. No matter where we play at, big or small, we’re just going to try to come out our hardest and win games.”
The win over Dimmitt at Hodgetown fairly typified Bushland’s season to date. A two-out rally resulting in five runs in the first inning gave the Falcons all the cushion they needed, and Melban did the rest on the mound.
But the most memorable moment for Melban and the Falcons that day came at the plate. Melban led off the third inning with a drive to center which Dimmitt couldn’t catch up to, and he took advantage of the ball rolling to the Hodgetown warning track to come all the way home for an inside-the-park home run.
“I saw the sign at third and said there was no way I was going to stop and I was just going for it,” Melban said. “I think this is the only ballpark I’d be able to get an inside the park home run. I think it’s really going to help us go deep in the playoffs playing in bigger places with more people there.”
That’s part of the plan Love had for wanting games at Hodgetown. The Falcons look like a prohibitive favorite to be the district’s top seed in the postseason, so it’s not to soon to plan on sites at the start of the postseason.
So, don’t be surprised to see them back at Hodgetown sooner rather than later.
“Obviously with the first round being Lubbock area teams, there’s really not a great halfway point except for Plainview, and usually Wayland (Baptist) is playing that first round,” Love said. “If we can we’ll try here again.
“Our focus I think because of all that has become even better because of the fact you have to adjust. Once kids get used to a schedule, sometimes it’s hard to get them out of that. The fact that we’ve been all over the place, you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
Of course, bigger facilities might be something the Falcons need to get used to if they’re going to stay in the playoffs awhile. If they reach the state tournament in June, they’ll play at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond, home to the Class AAA Round Rock Express.
Bass said not having a permanent home has resulted in a bring-it-on mentality for the team.
“We knew coming into the season we wouldn’t have a field to practice on, but we’ve adapted to that,” Bass said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job of maintaining focus. It’s been a little rough but we’ve just executed wherever we’ve played at.”
Love not only praises his players for adapting, but the Bushland administration for setting up a situation in which they could succeed.
“It’s been tough being on the road as much as we have, but we get to play at a place like (Hodgetown) and it is a blessing in disguise,” Love said. “I won’t take it for granted, I promise you. Our superintendent Chris Wiginton and (athletic director) Josh Reynolds have been great on letting us do what we need to do to be successful, and that’s why we’re successful, because we’ve got great leadership.
“My principal Kristi Culpepper has not batted an eye on letting us be gone when we need to be gone. I can’t thank all three of them enough.”