Apaches Honor Teammate, Defend National Championship

On picture day for the Tyler Junior College Apaches, it all starts over again.

"We don't put the real uniforms on until we play," Apaches coach Jon Groth said. "so this is the first time we've had them on since we dogpiled (after winning the championship)"

"I'm no different from these kids, it's fun to put them on and think that three days from now we're going to put them on again and get going."

Over the last year, the Apaches have been as high and as low as they could have possibly imagined. In May, they won their first ever National Championship. In October, they lost teammate Payton Diers to a fatal car accident.

"We've been through a lot," Apaches sophomore Clint Stroud said, "but it brought the team closer together."

"We're a really close team. Winning it all last year brought us together,"Apaches catcher Mike McCollum said. "Then this past fall, we lost Payton, a great teammate and a great friend of ours. That made us even closer together. We've got obstacles, but we can overcome them."

The team will honor Payton in their hearts, and on their caps. His locker will keep his jersey, as his Apaches try and move on.

"We just hope that what we do this year is in honor of Payton," Groth said. "At the same time, we've got to move on. Life goes on, he'll never leave us. His family has been so great through this difficult time."

The last year has the Apaches closer, tested, and ready to go.

Reid Kerr can be reached at rkerr@kltv.com.