You may need a program to recognize the Durant Lions when they open the 2013 baseball season on Friday with the Annual First United Bank/Choctaw Resort First Pitch Festival at the Durant Multi-Sports Complex.
The youth-laden Lions will be looking to build off last year’s 30-12 campaign in which they reached the state tournament for the first time in 18 seasons and recorded the school’s first state victory in 82 years while reaching the semifinals.
Durant’s varsity unit will tangle with Tupelo at 4:30 on Friday with the junior varsity to follow against Broken Bow. Other teams in the festival, which had to be condensed this year due to new OSSAA rules, include Plainview and Sallisaw. Even with an almost completely new varsity lineup, expectations remain high for the Lions to make another push toward the state tournament while contending for the District 5A-4 title.
“We have a lot of good, young talented kids that will be stepping into new roles this year,” head coach Ron Norman said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in their ability. Many of them just have to translate that to the varsity level.
“Some people may count us out after losing all the seniors we did but I think we’re going to have a chance to surprise a lot of folks and be right in the thick of the district race and state tournament contention.”
Much of the Lions’ success this season will rest heavily on a young but possibly surprising pitching staff, which has been the strength of the squad’s preseason schedule.
Leading the way will be junior lefty Brandon Maynard, who steps into the ace role after notching a 5-1 record and 2.03 ERA. He struck out 26 in 31 innings and allowed just a .222 opposing batting average. Expected to join Maynard as regulars on the mound are Zack Lively along with Dylan Stevens and Austin Joines. Lively is the lone senior on the roster and has been impressive on the mound in early workouts. He and Stevens could fill either starting or relief roles while Joines is penciled in be a main reliever. The coaching staff also has high expectations on the mound from sophomores Brandon Robison, Riley Hendrix and Cooper Webb. Look for junior Alex Brooks and freshman Tyler Stovall to see regular pitching work, especially in relief roles. Defensively the Lions are still a work in progress with a host of players that could fill a plethora of positions. Brooks is the club’s lone returnee in the offensive lineup after blossoming in the designated hitter role a year ago before finishing with a .281 average and 15 runs batted in. He’ll be a fixture at first base throughout this season. Junior Ty Jackson will get the nod at the catcher slot to start the season but could have plenty of competition there with sophomore newcomer Seth White as well as Webb and Lively.
Joines and Webb are expected to be fixtures on the infield and lead the way defensively. Joines will be looking to build off the .714 batting average he posted in limited action as a sophomore. Stevens will open at the hot corner and provide a power bat in the middle of the batting order. Fellow juniors Derek Penz and Ryan Boehme will also battle for playing time along with sophomore Carson Campbell, who is still recovering from an elbow injury during basketball season.
The Lions will have plenty of youth in the outfield with sophomores White and Robison slated to get the start in the opener along with the freshman Stovall. All three have good speed and range in the outfield. Also look for sophomore Spencer Tidwell and Maynard to contribute during the course of the season. Durant has another challenging schedule in addition to district competition with the Washita Valley Classic at Chickasha along with Owasso Pro-Nine Tournament and McAlester 5A Shootout on the slate.
There won’t be much time for warm ups as the Lions are scheduled to jump right into district play on Tuesday when they host Northwest Classen for a doubleheader.