At first glance it might seem that El Reno High School’s baseball team is going through the dreaded process of rebuilding, especially after a summer season in which the losses nearly doubled the victories.
However, head coach Keith Hill is not hitting the panic button, but rather looking forward to next spring.
“I know what we have coming back. A lot of the kids that played in the spring did not play this summer due to injuries. We needed to give them time to heal up. Those kids were starters and I know what we have in those players,” said Hill.
The Indians lost only three seniors off last year’s 26-win team which made the Class 5A state quarterfinals.
However, Hill says there will be some growing pains since all three were starters at infield positions which they had held for multiple seasons.
“I will say we are rebuilding in a couple of key defensive spots because we lost those three seniors. But a lot of kids are back that got experience in big games and I’m looking forward to those players taking a leadership role for us next year.
“We may have to keep an eye on a couple of positions, but overall with six starters back with another year of growth and getting better, that’s a good preview of things to come,” said Hill.
Replacing those three players as well as introducing eight players into extensive playing time was the focus of the summer Red Dirt League for the Indians.
Hill added many of those younger players were forced into more playing time than even he expected due to injuries. El Reno closed the summer season with three of the six returning starters from the spring on the disabled list.
“Those younger kids were thrust into more playing time because we were battling so many injuries. The good thing is those young ones got more reps and that will be good in the long run.
“We had several losses that were by two runs or less, which shows those young kids were competing, which to me is more important in the summer than the wins and losses,” said Hill.
The Red Dirt League was created in 2006 as an alternate summer league for high school and middle school teams, both public and private. It’s different because the league runs only the month of June with an end-of-season tournament.
Teams entered in the RDL can opt to play either with wooden or metal bats. El Reno played in the RDL wooden bat division for nine of its 11 games this summer. A two-game set with Oklahoma Christian Academy were the only games the Indians used metal bats.
“It takes some time, but the kids like the change and many of them prefer to swing the wooden bats. The ball does not come off with the same power and velocity as the aluminum bats, but the kids seem to like the change of pace and the challenge,” said Hill.
Hill added the switch helps to develop a player’s bat speed.
“Wood bats provide resistance in your swing and helps you create more bat speed. That always helps when you go back to aluminum bats,” said Hill.
Summer numbers bear out that fact as El Reno logged 25 hits over the first four games of the RDL season. The Indians then used aluminum bats for its series with Oklahoma Christian Academy, logging 18 hits for the doubleheader.
El Reno ended the summer season with a 4-7 overall record and a 2-7 mark in the Red Dirt League standings. The Indians opted out of playing in the postseason tournament.
Hill got everyone involved during the short season as all 16 rostered players got to the plate at least five times. Thirteen of those players recorded base hits as the Indians closed the summer with a .298 team batting average.
The Indians made 242 trips to the plate, producing 72 hits and 56 runs over 11 games. As a team, El Reno logged 28 walks and 43 runs batted in.
El Reno bats did not allow a no-hitter to opposing pitchers but were held to single-digit hits in nine games. In five of those games below double-digit hits, EHS did log a handful or more of base knocks.
The Indians posted a summer-high 13 hits in a home outing against Heritage Hall, while logging 12 hits in one of the two OCA games at the Hub Reed Complex.
Veterans Gabe Walker and Andrew Nix led the team in hits with 11 each, while Jake Williams was close behind with 10 hits.
Walker was 11-of-26 from the plate over 11 games for a .423 average, while adding nine runs, five walks and two RBIs.
Nix went 11-of-30 for a .366 average with two doubles and a walk. He led the team with 11 RBIs and added seven runs scored.
Williams, another spring starter at catcher, was 10-of-31 from the plate this summer for a .322 average. He logged two of the team’s 16 extra base hits, both doubles, while adding 10 runs and eight ribbies.
Brice Hill was not far off the pace with a 9-of-22 effort for a .409 batting average. He logged three doubles, four walks, six RBIs and six runs scored.
Kolton Hunt started the season strong before a lower back issue sent him to the bench. He was 6-of-10 from the plate for a .600 average, logging a double, two ribbies and a pair of runs scored.
Veteran Gabe Ruoff had a solid summer, going 7-of-22 from the plate (.318) with a double, three runs and two RBIs.
Dalton Kudron had an off summer, going 3-of-15 (.200), but did hit the team’s only home run.
Collyn Carnott, who had limited varsity time in the spring, had the highest summer batting average at .444. He was 4-of-9 with three doubles and a triple, which accounted for six runs and three more batted in.
Boston Ellison (.250), Hunter Harkrider, Vincent Walker (.200), Landon Rakestraw and Brayden Fulton (.222) all had two hits or more. Each made at least five trips to the plate.