Byng’s young baseball team spent the past three weeks digging out of an early hole to earn a spot in the first Red Dirt League postseason tournament. But the Pirates, who swept a doubleheader at Duncan Monday night to sew up one of the four spots in the tournament out of their division, won’t be in the field when play begins Thursday.

“It’s July 4 weekend, and we’re going to have two kids gone, so we’re not going to the tournament,” said Byng coach Kevin Wilson, whose rebuilding club won eight of its last 10 games after an 0-4 start to finish 8-6 in its first Red Dirt League season.

Juniors Dakota Atkeson — the Pirates’ No. 1 starting pitcher, third baseman and clean-up hitter — and Glenn Mitchell — Byng’s second baseman and hottest hitter the past two weeks — will both be out of town on family vacations this weekend, leaving Wilson’s already thin squad without arguably its two best players.

Facing a schedule that could have his club playing as many as seven games over the next four days, Wilson decided to simply shut down the season on a high note rather than face a tough weekend with a team that wasn’t going to be at its best. He said, however, that competing in the new league laid a solid foundation for his team heading into the fall campaign.

“I really enjoyed it, because I think a lot of times we get too familiar with the teams around here,” Wilson said. “I was pleased with our season. I just wish the tournament was on another weekend. We’ll play in the league next year.”

While Byng will bow out of the tournament, Ada coach Ronny Johns — who, like Wilson, looked at a lot of new players this summer after losing some key seniors off his 2006 state tournament squad — said he and his players are looking forward to their summer finale.

“I feel pretty good going into it,” Johns said of the tournament, which will feature the top 16 teams from regular season play.

Ada meets McLoud at noon and Carl Albert at 2:30 p.m. Thursday and will take on Elk City at 7:30 p.m. Friday night. All three pool play games will be played at McLoud High School.

Should Ada be one of the top three teams in the pool, the Cougars would advance to a 12-team single elimination tournament scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Chickasha High School.

Johns suffered three key losses (Clint Bowker, Chase Sanders and Ty Gower) from his pitching staff and spent the summer looking for quality replacements. Although Chad Palmer (one of two returning starting pitchers off his 2006 squad) has been sidelined for the past two weeks with a pulled tricep in his pitching arm, Johns said his staff could be deeper than the group that led the Cougars to the 5A state tourney this spring — something that could pay dividends if Ada advances past the pool play.

“I wish Chad was able to throw like he can,” said Johns, who has Palmer, junior Willy Gould and senior Quaid Johns at the top of the rotation and younger arms in Dillon Phillips, Josh Balch, Keifer Truett and Tyler Mills who have thrown well this summer. “We may use (Palmer) here or there this weekend, but if he was healthy we’d really be in good shape.

“This group (of pitchers) the potential to be right there with the guys we had this spring,” Johns added. “I think we’re going to have more arms we can throw out there and not be as limited as we were last spring. Hopefully we’ll get far enough this weekend where we’ll have to use some of the young guys and get them some experience in meaningful game. That will only help us later on.”

Wilson and Johns (whose club will enter the tournament with a 9-5 record and was No. 1 in its division when the week began) began their summer schedule looking for replacements for major graduation losses (Byng lost six starters off a squad that had gone to four straight state tournaments), and both coaches said the Red Dirt schedule should pay dividends in the coming year.

“It definitely was good for us,” said Johns, who, unlike Wilson (who substituted Red Dirt play for his normal summer schedule) folded the league games into his normal summer routine and will go into the tournament with a club that gained some valuable added experience despite struggling at the plate the past few games. “We played good competition and got more games in. All of our kids got more playing time than we have in the past.

“We’ve gotten a lot of innings for our young pitchers,” Johns added. “We have very few guys who have a lot of experience, and we got to look at a lot of kids. We’ve also had some JV guys who have shown some promise this summer.”

Byng rallied from an early hole to sweep Duncan on the road Monday, although Atkeson (who pitched a four-hit shutout against Ada last week) was hurt by a couple of key errors and fell behind, 4-0, in Game 1. Sophomore Dakota Abbott, who had been inconsistent all summer, came on in relief and got the victory in an 8-4 Byng win, and the Pirates won the nightcap, 11-3, behind sophomore righthander Jordan Cowger.

“Dakota Abbott pitched well, and Jordan Cowger pitched the best he’s pitched all year,” Wilson said. “We put the ball in play pretty hard. We made a lot of improvement over the course of the season.

“Our pitchers are going to be inconsistent, because they haven’t thrown a lot, but I think they showed this summer what they’re capable of doing,” added Wilson, whose club opens its fall schedule Aug. 8 on the road against old rival (and 2006 Class A spring state champ) Roff.

“The thing we’re going to have to work on the most is being a good team...not just catching and hitting and throwing but being on the same page. If we just come together as a team and just improve a little bit, we have a chance to win (Class A this fall). You don’t have to be the best team in the state...you just have to be the best team on that day. We’re going to have to play our tails off every day to win games, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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