The high school baseball season officially starts this weekend, and hopes are high on both sides of town that Abilene ISD will send Abilene High and Cooper to the Class 5A playoffs in 2024. 

For Abilene High, it would be a repeat appearance in the postseason under second-year head coach Brad Harman, who led the Eagles to a 19-19 record and appearance in the Region I-5A quarterfinals in 2023. Meanwhile, a playoff appearance for Cooper in 2024 under third-year head coach Brandon Stover would snap a six-year postseason drought for the Cougars, who last year were 12-17 but return an experienced, hungry group in 2024.

Both teams will be in action this weekend in tournaments as the Cougars will be playing in the Weatherford Tournament in Weatherford, Granbury, and Azle. Meanwhile, Abilene High will play in the Melissa High School Tournament. Below is a brief preview of each team’s 2024 prospects and a capsule for each team:


When Stover was hired in June 2021 to take over the Cooper program, he knew a turnaround wouldn’t happen overnight. The former Cooper football and baseball standout was building a program, and in his third year, he believes the Cougars are on the right track and could make some noise in District 4-5A.

For the Cougars, making a run at the playoffs boils down to coming up big in clutch situations. Last season, they lost several close games that could have put them in the hunt for a playoff spot. But many of the players who experienced those narrow defeats return in 2024, hungry to get the Cougars back into the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

“We need to win the close games,” Stover said. “Last year, we played with everyone in the district and had opportunities to win a few close ballgames that we didn’t win. If we can find a way to win the close games, we’ll have a chance to control our fate and push to make a playoff run.”

Leading the returning players for the Cougars are junior catcher/pitcher Austin Cummins, a second team all-district selection in 2023. Also back are junior infielder/pitcher Jace Crawford and junior pitcher Jeron Flores, who enjoyed breakout seasons in 2024.

Stover knows getting into the playoffs means going through Lubbock (Lubbock Cooper and Monterey) and Abilene (Wylie and Abilene High). But he’s ready to see if his team can put the lessons learned in 2023 to use in 2024 and make a run at a postseason spot.

“This will be an evenly matched and tough district this season,” he said. “Most of the teams in the district return the bulk of their teams from 2023, and it was a tight race last year. As always, it will come down to playing quality baseball at the right time of the season. We must play more consistently during that time of year to accomplish our goals this season.”


The Abilene High Eagles went three rounds deep in the Class 5A playoffs last season in Harman’s first season at AHS. Now in his 20th season as a head coach, Harman has carved out a 336-186-6 overall record and believes the 2024 Eagles have what it takes to get back to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2017-2018.

“We have to work extremely hard every day,” Harman said of his team. “This district is incredibly tough, and we won’t catch anyone by surprise this season. We have to be ready for our opponents’ best shot every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday for us to be one of the four teams that get out of District 4-5A.”

The Eagles will be led by senior pitcher Brady Bennett, who was 11-0 last season with a 1.31 ERA and was voted the District 4-5A Pitcher of the Year and was also selected to the Blue Bell/Texas Sports Writers Association Class 5A All-State third team. The Eagles also return second team all-district selection Beckham Paul (senior outfielder/pitcher), and honorable mention selections Trey Simpson (senior first baseman), Rylan Stokes (junior catcher/pitcher), and Casen Kilmer (senior outfielder/pitcher).

The Eagles’ pitching staff could also be bolstered by the addition of freshman righthander George Ferguson, who is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in Texas in the Class of 2027 by Prep Baseball. 

Even with those important returning players and the experience of last year’s playoff belt under their belts, Harman knows none of that will matter when it comes to getting back to the playoffs in 2024.

“We’ve got a blank slate in 2024,” Harman said. “We’ve got several players back from last year, but they know they must work each day to enjoy another successful season. Last year showed they have the ability and tools to do great things, but I don’t believe momentum carries over from one season to the next. We have to create that ourselves for 2024.”

Harman knows his team’s resiliency will be tested by the 18-game district journey leading up to a potential playoff berth.

“This year’s District 4-5A race will be identical to the 2023 race,” Harman said. “This district will be one of the most competitive in the state. Any of the seven teams in this district are capable of beating anyone. It’s an 18-game gauntlet that you have to claw your way through, and the four teams that make their way out of this district will be battle-tested and have a chance to make a deep run in the postseason.”


Last season: 12-17, 4-14 (6th in District 4-5A)

Head Coach: Brandon Stover (3rd season overall / 3rd season at Cooper)

Coach Stover’s record: 23-35 career / 23-35 at Cooper

Last district championship: 2010

Last playoff appearance: 2019 (lost to Lubbock Coronado, 2-0, in a best-of-three Class 5A bi-district series)

Last playoff series win: 2017 (def. El Paso Eastlake, 2-1, in a best-of-three Class 5A bi-district series)

Top Returners (name, classification, position):

  • Brady Henderson, jr, INF / RHP
  • Austin Cummins, jr, C / RHP
  • Jace Crawford, jr, INF / RHP
  • Alejandro Ibarra, jr, INF / RHP
  • Garett Castillo, jr, INF / RHP
  • Jaden Carrillo, soph, INF
  • Jaden Smith, sr, OF / LHP
  • Kam Gray, sr, OF / RHP
  • Cayden Garcia, sr, C / RHP
  • Jeron Flores, jr, RHP

Top Newcomers (name, classification, position):

  • Braden Warren, jr, OF / 1B
  • Jonathan Rico, soph, INF / RHP

Key Games on the Schedule:

  • vs. Abilene High: March 9, March 26, April 12
  • vs. Wylie: March 7, March 28, April 16
  • vs. Lubbock Monterey: March 16, April 2, April 20
  • vs. Lubbock Cooper: March 19, March 22, April 9, 

2024 team strengths, weaknesses, and team goals:

  • Strengths: Experience. Almost the entire varsity roster returns from 2023.
  • Weaknesses: Pitching depth in the program.
  • Team goals: Find a way to reach the playoffs

Coach Stover says: “We have most of our varsity roster back from last season. Jeron Flores on the mound and Jace Crawford at the plate had two breakout seasons in 2023, and we figured out some areas where we need to improve in 2024. The important thing is learning from the good and the bad from 2023 and taking those things into 2024 with renewed enthusiasm to accomplish our goals.”


 Last season: 19-19, 11-7 (4th in District 4-5A)

Head Coach: Brad Harman (20th season overall / 2nd season at Abilene High)

Coach Harman’s record: 336-186-6 career / 19-19 at Abilene High

Last district championship: 2015

Last playoff appearance: 2023 (def. Amarillo High, 2-0, in bi-district playoff series; def. El Paso Ysleta, 2-1, in area round; lost to Lubbock Cooper in regional quarterfinals)

Last playoff series win: 2023 (def. El Paso Ysleta, 2-1, in a best-of-three Class 5A area series)

Top Returners (name, classification, position):

  • Brady Bennett, sr, P/SS
  • Beckham Paul, sr, OF / P
  • Casen Kilmer, Sr. , OF / P
  • Trey Simpson, sr, 1B
  • Jamison Castel, sr, Utility / P
  • Danian Martinez, sr. 2B / SS / P
  • Connel Colley, jr, 1B / P
  • Rylan Stokes, jr, C / P

Top Newcomers (name, classification, position):

  • John Miles Wagstaff, jr, Utility
  • Camp Churchill, jr, Utility / P
  • Brenner Paul, soph, 3B / P
  • Xavier De La Cruz, soph, Utility / P
  • George Ferguson, fr, RHP

Key Games on the Schedule:

  • vs. Abilene Cooper: March 9, March 26, and April 12
  • vs. Lubbock Cooper: March 16, April 5, and April 23
  • vs. Lubbock Monterey: March 5, April 2, and April 20
  • vs. Wylie: March 8, March 22, and April 9

2024 team strengths, weaknesses, and team goals:

  • Strengths: Second year in the system. Experience, speed, work ethic, leadership.
  • Weaknesses: Lack of depth. 
  • Team goals: Continue to build and improve the program. Take things one step and one day at a time. Win the Day and move to the next day.

Coach Harman says: I’m excited about the 2024 squad. We have several core members from the 2023 team returning who will provide experience at several positions and leadership on the field, which is needed for any program to be successful.”