Durant has only a hand-full of full-time and part-time starters returning and will lean on youth at critical positions. Junior Josh Brown, moving from second base to shortstop, started every game last year.
“He’s going to kind of set the tone for us in the lead-off spot,” said Durant coach Zach Crabtree. “He’s going to have to be a good player for us to be successful. He’s going to have to get on base, steal some bases and play good defense. He’s got the most experience out there, so he’s going to have to be a leader.
“After that, in the field we have a group of sophomores. Keaton Webb started just about every game last year catching or right field. He’s going to hit probably in the middle of the lineup, and also be a leader from behind the plate.”
Durant’s top newcomer is Kevin Williams, a move-in from Noble. Williams, injured during football season, was just medically released to play this week but not given the green light in all aspects.
“Where I really think he’ll help us most is on the mound, and he’s not been released to start pitching yet. Hopefully, by the end of March, he’ll get to start pitching,” said Crabtree. “He may play some outfield, some first base ... see how his knee goes. We’re looking for some good things from him. He was really good at Noble last year. He won a game (pitching) in the Regional Tournament, maybe two.”
Senior Brandon Bennett was a part-time start in the infield and worked some into the rotation last year. His role on the team has grown into one of the most critical.
“He’s going to be our No. 1 on the mound starting off,” said Crabtree. “He’s looked real good in scrimmages. Did a good job against state semifinalist Lone Grove.”
Other returning part-time starters are sophomores Tyler Hendley, Derrick Haworth and Robert Ragle.
Hendley will likely hit in the middle of the lineup, play corner infield and pitch. He’s going to be counted on to drive in some runs. Haworth split time with Hendley at DH last year, but will move to second base this year. He has hit well in the postseason. Ragle started most of the season last year at center field.
“He was really good defensively last year, so we’re going to count on that,” said Crabtree. “He’s going to have to step up and help us on the mound. We’re working on his bat. If it improves, he’s got a lot of speed, he can be a threat on the base paths.”
Some guys that will be fighting for playing time this year are: junior outfielder Terry Gaskey, who will also see time on the mound junior; sophomore Jase Hammock, a left-handed outfielder with a lot of potential and talent, according to Crabtree; sophomore Ruben Ramos, who Crabtree described as “a kind-of scrappy young man. He doesn’t do anything real flashy, but he’s real fundamental. He makes all the routine plays and puts the ball in play at the plate.”; along with freshmen Hunter Stephens and Dakota Diessner.
Senior Travis Smith and sophomore Daylan Green may also be expected to eat up innings on the mound, and sophomore Colby Hicks will get a shot on the mound and a chance to hit.
“We’re really young, got two or three seniors, couple of juniors. We’re sophomore loaded,” said Crabtree. “They’re really good players. Four of them played a lot last year as freshmen. If we can just keep our head above water early with our tough schedule, and our pitching gets some experience on the mound, we’ll have a chance to be really competitive come play-off time.
“We just want to improve each week and each day, get better and have a chance at the end. In the four years I’ve been here, we’ve had our peaks and valleys in the regular season, and we seem to play our best baseball at the end. Hopefully if we do that, we’ll win one more game than we have at the end of the last four years and get to the state tournament.
“If we don’t grow up in a hurry, it could be tough. These are good young men, and if they work hard, then we’ve got a chance. We’re going to have to throw strikes mainly and not give people free bases, and we’re going to have to play defense. We’ve got some good speed defensively and some good athletes. We just can’t give up any extra outs. We’re going to get lead-off guys on base and bunt-and-run and hit-and-run. We’re going to be a small ball team, I don’t see us hitting many home runs. We lost our top three power guys last year in Travis (Caraway), Max (White) and Spencer (Stephens). Power-wise and pitching-wise is where we’re going to be most inexperienced.”