ADA — Last season, the girls wore the pants in the Byng basketball program.

While the young Pirates — relying heavily on 3-point shooting that often failed them at the most inopportune times — limped to an 11-16 mark, Byng’s even younger Lady Pirates had a breakout 23-7 season under first-year coach Joe Neely. The girls came within a game of the Class 4A state tournament; the boys made an early playoff exit.

This season, though, the Pirates have discovered that inside is a good place to be during the winter months. And as a result, they’ve come out of the shadows to become one of the area’s top teams.

Led by 6-5 sophomore center Caleb Timmons and boasting a new, more physical style of play, Byng has won eight of 12 games after capturing Saturday’s consolation title at the Bethel CD Warehouse Tournament. The Pirates’ victories included quality wins over state-ranked teams from Latta and Tishomingo, and, because they rely less on their outside shooting, they are much more consistent than they were during their rollercoaster 2004-2005 campaign.

“We have a post presence now with Caleb,” Byng coach Tommy Eaton explained. “Last year, he wasn’t somebody you could count on for 10, 12 or 15 points a game. This year, he’s a lot more physical.

“As a team, we’re a lot more mature, and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Eaton added. “We’ve been a little short-handed the past two or three years, but I feel like we’re turning the corner. I like this team. They’re not dominant physically, but they play well together, they look for the extra pass and they find the right guy.”

Timmons averaged 13 points and more than seven rebounds per game through Friday’s victory over a Shawnee JV club that had come within an eyelash of upsetting undefeated Tishomingo (No. 3 in Class 2A) Thursday, and he was one of three Pirates averaging in double figures for the season, joining senior guard Preston Petty and junior playmaker Ryan Haynes.

“Caleb’s got a lot of common sense, and he’s probably one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever had,” Eaton said of Timmons, who picked up a fourth foul late in the Latta game but stayed around for the finish while Panther post players Isaac Vandever and Jeremi Correll fouled out. “He does a good job on defense challenging shots. He doesn’t get caught up in the air a lot. He’s disciplined, but he’s tough around the basket.”

“Tough” was a word rarely used to describe the Pirates last season, but Petty (one of the area’s top 3-point shooters this winter) and Haynes have joined forwards Heath Wall and Justin Parnacher and a surprisingly deep bench to mirror Timmons’ new, more physical style.

“Preston works so hard,” Eaton said of Petty, who, next to Timmons, has been Byng’s most consistent scorer this season and, like Haynes, is averaging over 11 points per game. “He spends a lot of time on his own in the gym lifting and shooting. He’s really worked hard to become a good player.”

Haynes was Byng’s undisputed team leader last season as a sophomore, averaging about 12 points per game and earning a reputation as one of the area’s most complete backcourt players. His scoring average has dropped slightly this season, but his 21-point effort in the Tishomingo win showed that he still has the touch.

“Ryan hadn’t been shooting the ball as well as he can until the Tishomingo game,” Eaton said. “But he creates for other people. He’s probably the most explosive player we have.”

Parnacher and Wall have scored in double figures on occasion this season, and they have both played major roles in the Pirates’ success despite less-than-flashy offensive numbers.

“A lot of times, J. P. (Parnacher) is on the other team’s best shooter,” Eaton noted. “He’s quick and strong.

“Heath has really improved,” Eaton said of the 6-3 Wall. “He gives us a little more size, and he’s more physical this year.”

The Pirates’ new style notwithstanding, the Byng bench might be the team’s biggest upgrade from last season. Junior guard Clay Plunk has been an occasional starter who has come off the bench to give Eaton quality minutes almost every time he has played, versatile sophomore guard Glenn Mitchell recently returned from an injury and should be at full speed for the postseason, and freshman post player Dakota Abbott could be Byng’s star of the future.

“Clay has been really clutch,” Eaton said of Plunk. “He’s been our best free throw shooter (80 percent), and a lot of them have been clutch free throws, and he’s hit some big baskets. He does a lot of things that don’t get noticed, and he’s probably the best we’ve got at getting Caleb the ball in the post.

“Dakota is going to be a good player for us — he’s just getting acclimated to what high school basketball is all about,” Eaton added. “Glenn gives us a bigger, stronger guard. He’s just now getting back in the groove of practicing and playing.”

Because of their losing record last season, the Pirates were thrown to the wolves early in the playoffs, and Eaton hopes a better regular-season showing will give Byng a home game or two and a better draw next month in the playoffs. Byng’s biggest obstacle could be a tough January schedule that has the Pirates playing at home only once (against Bethel on Jan. 24) and facing challenging road games with Konawa Friday and Latta (on Monday, Jan. 16) and a date in the Purcell Tournament.

Byng will then close the season with February contests at home against Tecumseh and Durant (who both beat the Pirates earlier in the campaign) sandwiched around a visit to Holdenville.

“January is a big key for us,” Eaton admitted. “We’re playing in two really tough tournaments, and we have only one home game. We’ll know a lot more after January’s over.”

He added, however, that his team’s rugged late-season schedule could be a blessing in disguise.

“We’ll know a lot more after January’s over,” Eaton said. “It could help us make a playoff run. We should be battle tested.

“It’s tough to keep the intensity every night, and I don’t see any easy games the rest of the way — every night is going to be a challenge,” he said. “I think the kids know we have to play together and play hard, but we’ve got enough kids contributing right now that we can challenge them to play hard while they’re in there.

“(Class) 4A is probably the toughest class top to bottom year in and year out,” Eaton continued. “We’re going to have to be really smart and play with a lot of toughness, but I think this team has a chance to do some things in the playoffs if we continue to improve.”