The 2017 baseball season is on the doorstep for the Durant Lions with renewed enthusiasm and a plethora of experience to build on last year’s 11-24 finish.
Coach Ron Moore’s squad welcomes back all but one starter offensively and virtually its entire pitching rotation while adding four newcomers that should all make major impacts through the course of the season.
The biggest focus for the Lions has been shoring up a pitching staff that yielded free passes in bunches a season ago, with 239 in 212 innings of work. That was a big contributor in a team earned run average that ballooned to 5.67.
Junior Brady Nichols led the way in innings a season ago with 43 along with a team-best 3.25 ERA and 42 strikeouts although he posted a tough-luck 2-5 record.
He should be one of the squad’s top starters again as they also return seniors Dakota Finley and Brayden Green as well as junior Gavin Daws, all of which notched more than 28 innings on the mound last year. Durant High also got strong mound contributions from senior Brody Morgan and juniors Jensen Simmons and Cade Ogden this summer.
The Lions have added a proven arm to the rotation with the addition of Boswell move-in Connor Roberts, who pitched in the state tournament as a freshman. Fellow junior Braeden McKee should see considerably mound time as well after coming in from Rock Creek last year.
“We’ve got pretty much our entire staff back,” Moore commented. “Nichols, Finley, Green and Daws, then we’ve got several others than saw mound time. Those guys all worked hard in the offseason on throwing more strikes. We have tried to work on pitches that get us in the zone more often, hit bats and miss barrels. You just can’t average seven walks or more per game and have much success. That’s tough to make up for.
“That work has shown up in our scrimmages so far with not many walks issued. We’ve also added Connor Roberts, who will definitely help the rotation. He will be one of our top two or three guys on the mound this season.”
Offensively, Moore looks for more consistency from his veteran squad that has a year more of experience after struggling to score runs at times last season.
Overall in 2016 the Lions hit .296 while averaging just under six runs a contest.
The Lion skipper however feels like this year’s group can be more dangerous with balance from one through nine in the batting order.
“We’re trying to create more consistency with our swings,” Moore added. “We want to drive the ball back up the middle as much as we can offensively. Everything we do before live batting practice we are focusing on hitting to the opposite field gap. What that does is keep our bat head in the zone for longer time to create more contact we hope. That has been our focus as well as putting the ball in play with two strikes and expanding the zone.
“Research has shown 85 percent of pitches with two strikes come on the outer half of the plate. It’s been a process to them to understand that because a lot of young hitters want to pull everything.”
Leading the offensive returnees is Finley, who notched a .346 average with seven doubles, two triples and a homer to go along with 16 RBI, 30 runs and a team-best .430 on-base percentage.
Green (.316 average), Nichols (.311) and sophomore Cade Buchanan (.310) all hit over the .300 mark a season ago. Catcher Kolby Blake (.292), Morgan (.289), centerfielder Matthew Knox (.286) and Simmons (.263) are also back to add to the lineup.
Helping add to varsity depth will be Kyle Hughes, Noah Morrison and Dylon Polson.
“When you put Roberts and Nichols in the middle of the lineup there is some power there that you can work with,” Moore commented. “Power is going to come and go but you still have to be able to play small ball and we’ve got a lot of guys than have the capability of making things happen.
“The thing I like most about our squad is that guys at bottom of the order can drive balls to the gap this year, which wasn’t the case last year. Guys are older and more mature. We had a difficult time at the bottom of the order last year. I think we can put pressure on people throughout the lineup and most of those guys can run as well so I think we are going to be fun to watch.”
Defensively the Lions should be much improved thanks largely to more depth and options to choose from. In addition to Roberts and McKee, Moore is extremely high on freshmen Shawn Westmoreland and Michael Wingfield.
“I feel like we have a lot more options defensively than we had last year and a lot more depth,” the DHS head coach stated. “We have kids battling at most every position and a lot of kids that can play multiple positions. The biggest thing that does is give us more flexibility and more options to get our best hitters in the lineup. We have four or five capable middle infielders and five or six outfielders all capable of playing. If somebody is swinging the bat well we are going to find a position for them. With the defense we can put on the field this year I think that is more of a comfort to the pitchers.
“The two freshmen we have on varsity this year make our older guys better. They both have already made high school varsity type plays and that’s been fun to see. Ultimately though what we are trying to create is the ‘we’ factor as opposed to the ‘me’ factor. If we can create that team mindset and if we can become a family, the team goals become a lot easier. It doesn’t matter who make the big play or who gets the big hit or who gets the big strikeout. Everybody should be excited about team concept that it doesn’t matter who made it happen but that WE made it happen.”
In addition to the regular district slate that includes Bishop Kelley, Pryor, Coweta and McAlester, the Lions will also participate in the 24th Annual Aggie Classic in Pensacola, Florida, one of the premiere Spring Break tournaments in the country.
Durant jumps right into Class 5A competition this weekend by hosting Piedmont at 6 p.m. on Friday for the season opener and then Duncan at 2:30 on Saturday.
Contact Kevin Farr at 580-634-2161 or email@example.com
Durant Lions 2017 Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Mar 3 Piedmont 6 p.m.
Mar 4 Duncan 2:30
Mar 7 Coweta 5 p.m.
Mar 9 @ Coweta 5 p.m.
Mar 13-16 Tate, Florida Tournament
Mar 20 @ Dickson 4:30
Mar 21 Hugo 4:30
Mar 23 Ada 4:30
Mar 27 @ Tulsa Edison 4:30
Mar 28 Tulsa Edison 5 p.m.
Mar 30 Byng 4:30
Apr 1 Tahlequah (2) 1 p.m.
Apr 4 @ Hugo 4:30
Apr 6-8 Piedmont Tournament
Apr 10 Dickson 4:30
Apr 11 Pryor 5 p.m.
Apr 13 @ Pryor 5 p.m.
Apr 15 @ Broken Bow 11 a.m.
Apr 17 @ Bishop Kelley (2) 2 p.m.
Apr 20-22 McAlester Tournament
Apr 25 Latta 5 p.m.
Apr 27 @ McAlester 5 p.m.
Apr 28 McAlester 5 p.m.
May 4-6 Regional Tournament
May 11-13 State Tournament