Even though there has been a tweak to the District 5-5A baseball schedule this spring, the Yellow Jackets were going to be confident — and primed — to make a postseason return.
The first three weeks of the season did nothing to take away from either of those feelings. And Denison (8-6) will have a chance to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2000-01 as the Yellow Jackets open District 5-5A play by hosting Wichita Falls today at 2 p.m.
“I want our guys to be confident and expect to win every game. But we’ve got to come out and play. We have to respect everyone we play,” Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said. “Our guys realize we’re good. We shouldn’t be in the cellar of the standings.”
A year ago Denison broke a six-year playoff drought that seemed unlikely when district play began because the team had picked up just four victories heading into the 5-5A slate and hadn’t had the postseason pedigree of its opponents.
But the Jackets started putting things together, getting six wins from that point on, including a tie-breaker game against Denton Braswell for the final playoff berth. Denison then pushed 6-5A champion and region quarterfinalist Justin Northwest in a winner-take-all bi-district contest.
With so many of those contributors back, the expectations didn’t waiver. And the Jackets have played well so far, much of that on the back of a five-game winning streak that started with four victories at the Austin Tournament and carried over to hosting the Grayson County Classic this past weekend.
“We have a lot of guys back with experience. It’s been good to see where we’re at and where we want to be,” Bollinger said. “Had some games we could have won if we had the hit with runners on base or didn’t walk a guy and gotten the final out of the inning. Hopefully we learned a lot You can be pretty darn good but it’s going to take this and this.”
Denison has already won almost as many games as it did last season (10) and four of the six losses have been by four runs or fewer. In nearly half of the games the Jackets have scored at least eight runs.
“This year there’s more certainty with our lineup,” Bollinger said. “Last year we were still messing around with it.”
Wilson Kirkbride has been Denison’s top hitter so far but Dalton Souther, Seth Thomas and Christian Ruebeck also returned this season and are still contributing while freshman Cam Wheeler was called up the second week of the season and bounced around the outfield since he keeps hitting.
On the pitching side, the Jackets will use Ruebeck as the starter for one game while the other weekly match-up will have options.
“I still think we’ve got several guys,” Bollinger said. “We’ve been pretty successful using three guys in a game so we might go with that. It’s a matter of staying ahead of hitters.”
Austin Emery, Garrett Maxwell, Jacob Monroe, Kaleb McAlester and Nate Maulsby have all thrown well and Zander Ramey, a sophomore, was called up and has proven himself to the point that he will start against the Coyotes.
Denison joins Wichita Falls Rider, Sherman and Denton as the teams trying to repeat a trip to the postseason again in 2018. But the path will be a little bit different.
Instead of the traditional schedule that would have the Jackets play all six opponents and then follow the same order with only the location changing, the teams agreed to face one team during the same week with a home and home setup — mainly to force teams to use multiple starters instead of trying to navigate their way to the playoffs with only a single ace.
“All I’ve seen so far is the records and you can throw them out right now,” Bollinger said. “I expect our team to go out and do what we’re supposed to do and we’ll be competitive in every game.”