The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 21, 2013

Mustangs young, restless

By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

PIONEER — The last time Pioneer baseball coach Dave Riesen started at least five sophomores, the Mustangs started a run of three straight state tournament appearances.

This generation of second-year players doesn’t seem bad, either.

In seven mostly dominant wins this season, Pioneer (7-2, No. 6 in Class A) has trotted out five sophomore regulars, keeping hopes alive for a fourth-straight state appearance despite the loss of almost every regular starter from last season’s state semifinalist squad.

“We knew we had a lot of talent,” Riesen said. “This group of sophomores is really talented, so we thought we had a pretty good bunch. Honestly, I don’t know that we thought we’d get off to this good of a start, especially since our No. 1 pitcher is in St. Louis right now getting Tommy John surgery.”

That No. 1 pitcher is Colby Koontz, Pioneer’s 6-foot-8 sophomore who, before the injury, topped 86 mph with his fastball despite throwing through bone spurs in his elbow. At the plate, Koontz, who played in seven games as a designated hitter before season-ending surgery, takes 11 RBI, a home run and a .455 batting average with him.

But Koontz was only the second-most potent sophomore in the Mustangs’ young lineup.

Fellow class-of-2015 member Carter Postier has proven all but impossible to solve at the plate in his first season as a regular, reaching base almost three out of every four plate appearances, batting .667 with a home run and 12 RBI, second only behind senior Aaron Chain’s 19.

“We’ve had a great tradition here,” said Postier. “I mean, it feels like it’s just our duty to keep on winning every year.”

So far, so good.

The Mustangs won their first four games by an average margin of barely less than 20 runs. In their seven wins on the season, they’ve beaten opponents by more than 13, and their only losses have come to Arnett, the seventh-ranked team in Class B, and in a split with 2A No. 19 Alva, which has only lost to Pioneer.

The Mustangs’ hot start has come with five sophomores earning starts and seven — more than any other class — getting playing time. With Koontz gone, Pioneer regularly starts four sophomores: Postier, Kamen Lounsbury, Brandon McNaughton and Sage Lamunyon.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Postier said. “Last year a lot of us weren’t playing a whole lot, but I think we have enough talent to get real far this season. Down the line, I think we can win state, definitely.”

In the meantime, there have been some growing pains, some of which might have been the difference in one of the Mustangs’ two losses, a 7-3 defeat to Arnett.

“You have to have a lot more patience,” Riesen said. “We made several mental errors that cost us about four runs in that ballgame ... A couple times, we got caught in the wrong bunt defense, and we didn’t know where to throw the ball. Just mental mistakes that we’ve spent the last few days working on.”

That’s where the senior class, which has the experience if not the exuberance, comes in.

“I try to be the leader for them,” said Deiondre McKinney, a fourth-year starting center fielder. “I try to set the example for them, and show them what it’s like. Give them the basics.”

The early returns are good enough for McKinney to anticipate another state run.

“I expect us to go as far as we did last year,” he said. “If not further.”

The next step comes today against 2A No. 17 Mangum, followed by Class A No. 12 Wright City in the nightcap of the opening day of the Washington Festival. Pioneer plays three ranked teams in the weekend set, facing 2A No. 18 Sayre on Saturday.