By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The Stillwater High baseball program may have “lost” a lot of talent from last year’s state-qualifying team — with several former players now playing Division I baseball, one playing Division II football and another who moved to North Carolina with his family — but this year’s version of Pioneer baseball doesn’t view it that way.
So what that five senior starters graduated and one Ryder Jones, who was considered one of the top prospects in the state, left with his family when his father was displaced by a coaching change at Oklahoma State.
This squad is doing just fine without them.
“We have a bunch of kids that are starting for the first time, we’ve had some of struggles and a lot of doubters,” SHS coach Tony Holt said. “There were probably a lot of people outside of our team that didn’t think we were going to be very good.”
Matter of fact, the 2013 Pioneers have accomplished something the 2012 talent-filled SHS squad did not — earned the right to host a regional. Yes, last year’s team hosted a regional that propelled them to the state tournament, but that came with an asterisk — Sand Springs forfeited the right to host a regional due to playing too many games.
This year’s team can also claim they were never swept in a two-game district series. Yes, they lost a close contest to No. 1 and unbeaten Owasso, but the two teams did not get to play a second game — which was originally scheduled to be in Stillwater. Last year’s team was swept by Broken Arrow, a team which this year’s Pioneers split with.
Leading the Pioneers to the split against a talented Broken Arrow squad this year was junior left-handed ace Carson Teel — who went 5 2/3 innings before giving up a hit.
“This year we have just as much ability to make it as far, if not farther, than we did last,” Stillwater catcher Michael Higgins said following that victory. “We know we can beat anybody in the state if we play as a team.”
Often used as the third or fourth option on the mound a year ago — what with the likes of Boo Todhunter, who never lost at game in his time at SHS; Corey Hassel, who is now playing for OSU; and Jones able to pitch — Teel has emerged as a driving force for this year’s Pioneers.
Holt knows he’ll get a solid start ever four or five days out of the small, yet still intimidating lefty. But it’s not just what Teel has done on the mound that has made the charismatic junior such a vital influence.
His strength is on the mound, but he is still an every-day player for the Pioneers. He hits leadoff in the lineup, and when he gets on base — which he does often — he’s a danger with his speed.
He’s also given Stillwater a leader. What the program “lost” from last year among eight seniors — and Jones — they found in one player.
“Whether he’s on the mound, or just out there in the field, he’s a fierce competitor and is well liked by the coaches and teammates and people follow him,” Holt said. “He’s been great for our ball club. ... The talent is obviously there, but he has those intangibles — leadership, he’s got a fierce competitive fire in him.”
And that, along with a group of “who-knew” that have risen to the occasion, has the 2013 Pioneer program primed for another shot at a state appearance.
Of course, that won’t come easy. After all, it had been seven years since Stillwater had last been to state before 2012. But the opportunity to host — no asterisk, just simply winning — makes 2012 a distant memory, and 2013 a reality.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater NewsPress. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.