By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Raydon Leaton’s ambition was to be the host team for the NJCAA Division II College World Series, which opens next weekend at David Allen Memorial Stadium.
Instead, Leaton’s Northern Oklahoma College Enid Jets went through some growing pains during a 17-39 season.
The Jets, though, can take heart in going 7-4 down the stretch, including a 7-3 upset of No. 3 seed Redlands in the Region 2 championships.
They left four runners on third in a 2-1 loss to defending national runnerup Western in an elimination game.
“If we played the beginning of the season like we did at the end, our record would have been a lot different,’’ said NOC Enid coach Raydon Leaton. “We had a lot of growing up to do. There were some other factors that got us in the situation we were in record wise.’’
The Jets were ranked No. 19 in the preseason despite having only seven players returning from a team which had lost to Western in the regional finals.
Injuries were a factor. The Jets lost two catchers (Nolan Fanning and Keaton Webb) and two shortstops (Braden Martin and Kyle Callahan).
Martin, who was the lone Jet on the all-region tournament team, missed the first 44 games of the season. NOC Enid would be 7-5 with him in the lineup.
Russ Colgan, who was one the Jets’ leading hitters with a .368 average, missed much of the middle part of the season with a groin injury. Outfielder Sammy Terry, who hit .313 with four homers and 31 RBI, missed the regional tournament with a shoulder injury.
“We had a lot of weird injuries,’’ Leaton said, “but we have no excuses. If somebody gets hurt, then somebody else is supposed to step in there and do his job.’’
The Jets pitching staff struggled, especially early. They had a team ERA of 6.63. NOC Enid pitchers struck out 302 batters but walked 257 in 383 innings
When NOC Enid pitchers began to find the plate better, the defense improved. The Jets had a fielding percentage of .934.
Leaton blamed some of the pitching problems on a very un-springlike conditions. NOC Enid battled cold weather, rain and even snow.
“The weather affected everybody,’’ Leaton said. “A guy could throw Thursday and then not get back on the mound for 10 days. It’s hard to miss that much and be consistent. We had a lot of young guys on the mound trying to find their way and they got beat up early.’’
John Chidester, though, would throw back-to-back shutouts and throw 16 straight scoreless innings, tied for the second most in school history. He was 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA.
“When he got his breaking ball over, he was really good, as tough as anyone we have,’’ Leaton said.
Staff ace Zach Postoak was 6-5 with a 5.21 ERA. He went the distance in beating Redlands.
Leaton sees the staff being better next year with the return of Zach Bradford (1-5, 5.09 ERA), Austin Hilton (0-2, 9.55 ERA), Austin Hannum (1-6, 6.15 ERA), Kent Callison (0-3, 5.79 ERA) and Pioneer’s Brett McNaughton (1-0, 4.91 ERA) among others.
Justin Harvill of Evangel Christian of Keithville, La., is coming in as a freshman. He’s a sidewinder who struck out 11 in the state championship game. Bridge Creek’s Kaleb Allred also has signed.
The Jets only lose three starters — Terry, shortstop-third baseman Chase Knott (.301, 28 RBI) and Martin (.382, 11 RBI). Martin is pursuing his dream of becoming an F-16 fighter pilot instead of playing his sophomore season.
Martin told Leaton one reason was injuries. He’s missed part of four of the last five seasons.
“He’s one of the finest young men to come through this program,’’ Leaton said. “When somebody at age 19 knows what he wants to do with his life and has a passion for it, that is unique in itself. Whatever job he has, somebody is going to be lucky to have him.’’
The Jets will be able to center their attack around freshman outfielder Korbin Polston (.372, four homers, 48 RBI), freshman infielder Aaron McCandless (.311, two homers, 26 RBI), Colgan (.368, one homer 13 RBI), second baseman Dyce Applegate (.262, 14 RBI) and infielder-designated hitter Haden Johnson (.231, one homer, 10 RBI) among others.
Polston already has drawn interest from both pro and college scouts. He showed a rocket arm in right and was moved to center for the regional tournament.
“He’s got some tools,’’ Leaton said. “He opened up a lot of eyes when we played at Rose State. We let a caged gazelle to go out and run some balls down. The Royals have talked a lot about him. He still has some growing to do, but he’s going to get a lot of looks.’’
Leaton had no regrets about a difficult schedule. Unlike many teams, Leaton refused to schedule four-year JV teams to build up a record.
“Playing the best only can make you better,’’ he said. “I think that showed up in the playoffs. When it came crunch time, we handled it pretty well ... maybe better than those teams who played those JV games and had a 23-0 win ... we’re ready to put this year behind us and go on to next year.’’