A few weekends back, Tristen Bayless was approached by a stranger as he shopped for groceries in Wimberley.
The stranger applauded Bayless for highlights he had seen of the high school baseball player on TV. The encounter caught Bayless off-guard, in part because he doesn’t live in Wimberley. He’s a senior at Hutto High, which is more than 60 miles away.
“I’ve never had this much popularity,” said Bayless, whose team will open a Class 5A bi-district playoff series against Bryan on Friday.
On-field production has led to unexpected popularity for Bayless, who splits his time in Hutto between centerfield and the pitcher’s mound. Bayless leads the Hippos in batting average (.392), runs scored (27), home runs (three) and stolen bases (13), and the 6-foot-2-inch left-hander is 7-1 this season with a 1.03 ERA and 143 strikeouts.
Bayless no-hit Connally on March 15, striking out 17 in a 5-0 victory. Three weeks later, he struck out 12 in a five-inning no-hitter against Manor.
“It can be difficult enough for high school kids to see a left-handed pitcher because there are not as many out there,” said Connally coach Ryan Burns. “Then you add in his velocity and the way changed speeds and it was something to see.”
The two no-hitters served as a precursor to Bayless’ masterpiece, a perfect game against Waco University on April 26. Bayless struck out 19 of the 21 Trojans he faced, allowing only two fourth-inning ground-outs.
“At one point, I asked the third baseman for Hutto if he ever gets bored with Bayless on the mound,” said Kevin Compton, Waco University’s coach. “My kids were impressed with Tristen’s stuff. We barely touched the ball, and most of that was foul balls.”
Throwing fastballs, sliders, curve balls and the occasional knuckleball to junior catcher Layton Burge, Bayless used strikeouts to record 110 of his 138 outs in district play. Bayless’ stellar spring comes after he missed most of his junior year with a broken thumb.
Bayless returned for a couple of starts at the end of last season, and his thumb felt good enough for him to catch 49 passes and earn all-district honors this fall during his only season of high school football. Bayless still does exercises to rehab the injured digit — flicking his thumb while throwing a curveball can still be difficult — but he has relished his senior-year showcase.
“I definitely wanted to come out this year and succeed and prove what I couldn’t prove last year,” said Bayless, who has signed with McLennan College.
With outfielder Zach Arn, who shares the team lead in RBIs with Bayless, being the only other senior on Hutto’s roster, Bayless is attempting to leave the school’s baseball program in good standing before he departs. Hutto (16-9-2) split the District 17-5A championship with Temple this spring, and Bayless will pitch in one of the two bi-district games that the Hippos will play Friday against visiting Bryan.
Since it is set to move into a district that includes Cedar Park and perennial powerhouse Georgetown next season, Hutto hopes to gain some momentum during its 13th straight trip to the postseason.
“Now that we’ve proven ourselves against Temple, we’ve got to go deeper in playoffs,” Bayless said. “(We want to) prove ourselves as an actual team that can beat these bigger and better schools and not just be the little school that everyone picks on.”