By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Of the 34 players on the Northern Oklahoma College Enid baseball roster, only seven were a part of last season’s 38-23 team that lost to eventual national runner-up Western Oklahoma College in the regional finals.
“That’s junior college baseball,’’ said Jets coach Raydon Leaton, whose team opens the 2013 season Saturday with a 2 p.m. doubleheader against Cloud (Kan.) County at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. The two teams will also play a 1 p.m.doubleheader Sunday.
Another reality — teams can win with freshmen.
The freshmen-laden Jets are ranked No. 19 in the preseason rankings and rebuilding isn’t in Leaton’s vocabulary.
“If you’re good, you’re going to be good as a freshman and a sophomore,’’ he said. “We don’t worry about it. We take a lot of pride about being nationally recognized and we know we have to live up to that.’’
Junior college freshmen, Leaton points out, have a full fall season to mature.
“We have some talented guys who know what their responsibilities are and they are ready to fill the shoes of the guys who have left,’’ Leaton said.
Here’s a position by position look at the Jets:
Pitching: Shawn Hunter, 8-2 with a 2.33 ERA as a freshman, signed with Oklahoma State over the summer where he will have three years of eligibility.
That means the Jets will rely on a young, but promising, staff.
Sophomore Zach Postoak was 3-6 with a 3.09 ERA. He had 51 strikeouts in 67 innings and walked only 17. He has a bit of a “tender’’ arm and may skip the Cloud series.
“I would rather pitch him in May than now,’’ Leaton said.
Redshirt sophomores Hayden James (0-0, 9.00 ERA) and lefthander Christian Lafontan of Enid (1-0, 1.64) will be the other mainstays of the staff.
“That’s why you redshirt kids,’’ Leaton said. “In the third year, you expect them to do great things for you.’’
NEO transfer Kevin Royer of Stillwater will be the closer.
Former Timberlake star Stetson Buller and Pioneer’s Brett McNaughton, both right-handers, are among freshmen battling for spots on the mound.
They will be joined by lefties Zach Bradford, Dillon Freie and Chance Bunch and righthanders Kent Callison, John Chidester, Alex Hannum, Austin Hilton, Matt Kennewell, Eric James and Devin Ring.
“A wise man once said good dogs bite young,’’ Leaton said. “We expect our young guys to be good for us.’’
Time will tell which pitchers are the ones who bite.
“We have had guys who had great stuff on the mound in practice, but when the lights were on, didn’t compete well,’’ Leaton said. “We have had guys who had average stuff, but were bulldogs and competed like crazy. Those are guys you’re looking for.’’
Catcher: Freshmen Dylan Walker and Keaton Webb will platoon in doubleheaders. Nolan Fanning, another freshman, is injured and may not play this season.
“We’ll let them see what they can do,’’ Leaton said.
First base: Sophomore transfer Rowdy Dove and freshman Brandon Applewhite are big body power hitters.
Second base: Freshmen Dyce Applegate and Haden Johnson are battling for the job.
“One is better offensively and the other is better defensively,’’ Leaton said. “We’ll see what happens.’’
Shortstop: Sophomore Kyle Callahan is a proven commodity. He hit only .219, but played well in the postseason. Union’s Braden Martin, who once played for Enid’s Connie Mack summer team, also is available.
Third base: Sophomore Chase Knott, in 29 games last season, hit .323 with 11 RBI.
“He’s a baseball player,’’ Leaton said. “You want him on the field because he finds a way to make plays. He had a lot of productive at bats for us.’’
Shattuck’s Aaron McCandless, better known for football in high school, is the wild card. He played all four infield positions as well as catcher.
“He’s competitive enough that he will find a way into the lineup,’’ Leaton said. “He’s the type of kid that if you tell him what you want done, he’ll find a way to do it. He competes in everything he does whether it’s a intrasquad game or a bunting drill.’’
Players like McCandless and Buller, who were multi-sport stars in high school, tend to develop quicker now that they are concentrating solely on baseball, Leaton said.
“They both have made huge jumps,’’ Leaton said.
Outfield: Six players — Central Missouri transfer Sammy Terry of Tulsa Washington, freshmen T.J. Turner, Korbin Polston and Adam Dolan and redshirts A.J. Wilson and Russ Colgan are battling for playing time. Wilson could play some third base.
Leaton will mix and match various lineup combinations until the start of the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference season.
“Whoever earns it will get the playing time,’’ Leaton said. “We want guys who want to compete, who show up every day and give us everything they have. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself. If you don’t show up, you’re going to get beat with our schedule.’’
After a fall schedule and four weeks into the spring, Leaton pronounced his team ready. The weather was nice enough where the Jets have gone outside every day except for one or two days.
“We’re ready to see where the journey takes us,’’ Leaton said.
Western, ranked No. 2 in the preseason, is favored to repeat in the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“The conference is as good as ever,’’ Leaton said. “Western deserves the No. 2 ranking. Murray State will be good. Redlands and Carl Albert will have good pitching. It will be a dogfight like it was last year.’’