The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 16, 2014

Merrifield returns with Pioneer as favorite again

ENID, Okla. — The Pioneer Mustangs, 28 games into their 2014 season, were missing more pitchers than they had losses.

Entering the Merrifield Office Plus Invitational ranked fifth in Class A at 26-2, good enough to earn the top seed in this weekend’s field, co-hosted at  Enid’s David Allen Memorial Ballpark and Pioneer’s John D. Riesen Field, the Mustangs should have a rare near-complete pitching staff when the event opens at 10 a.m. today at Pioneer.

Junior first baseman Colby Koontz is second in home runs (2) and fifth in RBI (25), but hasn’t pitched since undergoing ligament-replacement surgery before his sophomore season and is expected to make his 2014 pitching debut this weekend.

Blake Gabriel, Pioneer’s top starting pitcher in 2013, has been limited almost exclusively to courtesy running thanks to a bout with shoulder tendonitis, but  may also pitch at some point in the tournament, while pitcher/catcher Patrick Williams is expected to return after missing 10 games with a knee injury and a concussion suffered in a car accident.

“If you would have told me that Blake and Colby would have thrown one inning through 28 games, I’d probably be a little bit (surprised),” Riesen said.

Riesen, who guided teams to three state tournament appearances in the last four seasons, said the 2014 Mustangs are the most talented team he’s coached. But while he knew the team had enough depth to absorb some injuries, he didn’t know just how well they’d fare.

Pretty well, it turns out.

Senior Collin Mason was expected to be a spot starter at pitcher and wasn’t part of Riesen’s hitting plans. He instead has the Mustangs’ second-best record at 5-0 behind only Austin Rogers’ 6-0, and is the only Pioneer starting pitcher with a sub-1.0 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). More surprisingly, Mason has developed from a player expected to bat seldom at most, to a .375 hitter, fourth among the Mustangs’ regulars.

“I’ve played baseball since I was 4 years old,” Mason said. “I’ve felt like I’ve been able to hit the ball, and I just took advantage of the opportunity I was given.”

Sophomore Bucko Gray, who hadn’t started a varsity game until the end of last season, has played five positions — all three outfield spots and both in Pioneer’s middle infield. Skylar Bartel (5-1) has thrown two no-hitters and Stephen Rich (3-0) have helped bolster a Mustang rotation that has a team earned-run average of 1.62 despite still awaiting the return of two top-end starters.

“Everybody that we’ve put out there has done a good job on the mound,” Riesen said. “I can’t really explain it. I’ve had years when I’ve had one or two arms and then we just kind of prayed for rain, but everyone out there has done a good job.”

Third-seeded Chisholm, 11-7 and ranked 19th in 3A, hasn’t gotten off to quite the hot start the Longhorns did in an upstart 2013, but the team still is a win short of 2012’s total. But the Longhorns are several near-misses from an equally impressive start, five of the team’s seven defeats coming by one run.

“We knew it was gonna be tough,” said first-year  head coach Cody Tutwiler. “We’ve had some pretty close losses. We’ve just got to get past that point. A break here or there, we could be a 16-17 win team right now.”

Fourth-seeded Oklahoma Bible Academy (13-9) enters the Merrifield riding a seven-game win streak. Drummond, Cimarron, Pond Creek-Hunter, Fairview, Watonga, Timberlake and junior varsity squads from Enid, Pioneer and Chisholm round out the 2014 field.

This season’s Merrifield will end a one-year hiatus for the event after 2013’s edition was rained out, but rain is back in the forecast for this weekend. If weather permits, the tournament will open at 10 a.m. today at Pioneer between the top-seeded Mustangs and ninth-seeded Timberlake.

Also at Pioneer: Timberlake vs. eight seed Watonga at noon, Watonga vs. 12th-seeded Pioneer junior varsity at 2 p.m., Pioneer JV vs, OBA at 4 p.m., OBA vs. fifth seed Cimarron at 6 p.m. and Pioneer vs. Cimarron at 8 p.m.

At David Allen: Chisholm vs. seven seed Fairview at noon, Fairview vs. sixth-seeded Pond Creek-Hunter at 2 p.m., PC-Hunter vs. second-seeded Drummond at 4 p.m., Chisholm’s 11th-seeded junior varsity vs. Drummond at 6 p.m. and Enid’s 10th-seeded junior varsity vs. Chisholm JV at 8 p.m.

One game will be played at Failing Field on the campus of Northern Oklahoma College Enid at 4 p.m., between Chisholm’s varsity and Enid’s JV.

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