By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The last time the Stillwater High School baseball team faced Edmond Santa Fe, Ty Hensley dazzled the Pioneers — throwing a one-hitter and knocking Stillwater out of the state playoffs in the first round.
Fresh off a 2-2 performance in the Gladys Winters Tournament and with Hensley in the New York Yankees organization, the Pioneers (10-7) are hoping for a little revenge when they face the Timberwolves at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Couch Park.
“I’m happy (Hensley) is not on that roster, but they lost a lot of guys off that roster,” Stillwater coach Tony Holt said. “It’s nice to know that we don’t have to face him, but at the same time we lost several players, too, with a couple of Division I players and several good players ourselves. It’s two totally different teams and a new year. It’s all new this year. That was a couple of good teams with a first-round draft pick on the mound. They got the best of us, but we’re looking at this as a whole new year.”
It may be a different year, but getting past the Timberwolves won’t exactly be an easy task — even without Hensley on the mound.
“They don’t have those great arms that they’ve been known for all these years — going back to the (Brandon) Weedens and even before that,” Holt said. “They used to just keep throwing arm after arm at you. They’re a little bit different this year. They don’t have those 90-plus mph arms, but they still have the same pitching coach, David Walsh, who is a former major leaguer and a great pitching coach. Even though those guys may not throw as hard, I promise you that they know how to pitch and understand the game.”
It’s that understanding and knowledge of the game that makes Edmond Santa Fe such a difficult matchup for the Pioneers.
“They’ll still be tough to score runs on because they are so well-coached and versed in the ways of pitching a baseball game,” Holt said. “It’s not all about velocity. I know they’re going to put some guys out there that are going to be talented. We feel like our guys are talented, too. They just need some experience. It helps that we scrimmaged them and kind of have a feel for what they got and I’m sure they feel the same way.”
Edmond Santa Fe may still have a plethora of arms in the cupboard, but don’t count the Pioneers out just yet. In fact, Stillwater took the regular season battle exactly one year ago 8-4 — and that was on the road.
Now, it appears the Pioneers are hitting their stride once again, aided by a huge upset over Tulsa Union in Enid.
“We had a couple of games at the Enid tournament where I didn’t think we particularly played well, but then we had two tremendous games,” Holt said. “Two out of our last three have been good games. We talked about the rollercoaster we’re on, but I think we’re on an upward swing. We’re playing a lot of kids and trying to find a good combination. I like our ballclub and we have a lot of kids that have contributed to our success and I like our chances this weekend. We’re excited about it. There’s no doubt about it, that big win over Union and Putnam City North will help us with our mind. Now we know what it takes to win and we can see what happens when you don’t perform like that and get beat.”
Stillwater and Edmond Santa Fe may be shells of what they were a year ago when they met in the state playoffs, but games like the one Tuesday will not only help both squads prepare for a grueling district schedule but may also plant the seeds of what could be another classic playoff matchup a few years down the road.
“They’re going to run good kids out there that understand how to pitch,” Holt said. “We’ve got some big district games coming up Friday and Saturday with Bixby. ... We’ve got our hands full this weekend and I look forward to playing Santa Fe because they’re going to have a good ballclub. It’s a non-district game, so we can do some things and get some kids some playing time against quality competition to get us ready for this weekend.”