Byng won’t be your average team coming off a six-year state tournament drought when the Pirates meet Hilldale at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Class 4A quarterfinals at Shawnee High School.
Second-year Pirate coach Shawn Streater was in the opposite dugout when Tuttle ended Byng’s last playoff run in the 2006 semifinals, and his second-ranked club will be a solid favorite against an 11th-ranked Hilldale squad that, ironically, beat No. 7 Tuttle in last week’s regional tournament to advance. In addition, the 29-3 Pirates will be the only team among the elite eight in Class 4A that also played baseball in the fall.
“We have the advantage that we’ve already played in a state championship this (school) year,” said Streater, whose club lost a 3-1 decision to Dale in the Class A title game in October. “Granted, it was against smaller schools (Byng is the largest school in Oklahoma to play fall baseball), but we’ve been in that venue, so it has to help.
“We play in the fall, and other teams at the state tournament don’t, so my sophomores and freshmen have as much experience as a lot of juniors and seniors,” he added. “Hopefully that will help us out this week.”
When Tuttle upset No. 2 Byng back in 2006, Streater basically bunted the Pirates into defeat. The Tigers snapped a scoreless tie with a four-run third-inning rally in which they didn’t get a ball out of the infield and went on to a 10-0 run-rule victory over a Byng squad that entered the state tournament as 4A’s No. 1 seed.
Like that 2006 squad, Streater’s club has a solid core of seniors — Jake Wellington, Jake Scroggins, Clint Humphers and Cody Williams — that has accounted for a big chunk of its production both on the mound and at the plate. Also, with a victory Thursday Byng will advance to meet either Tecumseh or Anadarko — teams the Pirates have already beaten this spring (Byng had also pummeled Streater’s Tuttle club during the regular season in 2006).
“We’re at the state tournament, so we’re one of the top eight teams in 4A,” Streater said. “Any one of these eight teams can win it. Nobody’s head and shoulders above anybody else.
“The teams that plays the best THIS WEEK is the team that’s going to win,” he said. “We have to make the routine plays and put pressure on the other team. The team that’s in awe of things and makes the big mistake won’t make it to Saturday. We don’t want to be the team that makes the big mistake.”
All eight teams in the 4A field will play their final game(s) on the road, but Byng also has more experience away from home than the other seven. The Pirates spent the entire month of March and part of April on the road during renovations to Stokes Field, and they had played only five home games prior to their regional.
“About 75 percent of our games have been road games,” Streater noted. “We played at Shawnee in their tournament and we’ve scrimmaged Shawnee, so we know the field. That should also help us.”
In Hilldale, Streater will face a club that he only knows through association. The Hornets have a solid 24-7 record, they have won seven games in a row and 11 of 12 coming into Thursday’s contest, and their only losses in the last month have come to ranked teams from Classes 5A or 6A.
“I don’t know a lot about them — I’ve been gathering scouting reports on them,” Streater said of the Hornets. “They’ve played Tuttle and Fort Gibson and Ardmore and (Class A champion) Red Oak.”
A clear favorite against No. 15 Ada and unranked teams from Broken Bow and Madill, Byng had anything but a cakewalk at home at last week’s regional tournament. The Pirates needed extra innings to edge Broken Bow in the first round, then they fought off a determined bid by Ada before beating the Cougars, 9-6, in the championship game.
“Those teams are good,” Streater said. “We knew (the regional) was going to be tough. We made plays and did the things we needed to do to win. Hopefully we’ll do the same thing this week.”
Byng’s offense has been explosive at times this spring, but the Pirates figure to go only as far this week as their pitching staff will carry them. Streater has four proven starters in Wellington, Humphers, sophomore Reid Wall (whose brother, Heath, was the second baseman on the 2006 Byng squad) and junior Tyler Pierce, and, though Wellington has emerged as the unofficial ace of the staff while posting an 8-0 record this spring, Streater said he won’t be afraid to use any or all of his pitchers as needed to stay alive until Saturday.
“All of my pitchers did a great job all year,” he said. “They’ve kept us in games, and they’ve given us a chance to win. I don’t expect them to strike everybody out, and they’ve done their job all year.
“I don’t necessarily have a guy that is My No. 1 — I have four guys that I’m not afraid to run out there against anybody,” Streater added. “Now it’s lose and go home, so if I have to throw them all, I’ll throw them out.”
Although the Pirates will bring a 14-game winning streak into their state tournament opener, Streater said he would like to see his team show a little more of a killer instinct.
“We need to do a better job of closing games out,” he said. “We’ve won in about every fashion you can this year. We have confidence we can come back and win, or we can hold on and win.
“We’ve played a good schedule, and we’ve been put in tough situations all year,” Streater noted. “This week I don’t care how we win as long as we win. It’s time for us to scrap, claw and do whatever it takes to stay alive.”