The recent past has been a mixed bag for the Denison baseball team. While a playoff appearance is in the rear-view mirror, so are two last-place finishes. Keeping both of those things were they are has the Yellow Jackets only focused on what they can do in the future.

The recent past has been a mixed bag for the Denison baseball team. While a playoff appearance is in the rear-view mirror, so are two last-place finishes. Keeping both of those things were they are has the Yellow Jackets only focused on what they can do in the future.


"This year is completely different from last year," Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said. "It’s all new. Gotta erase the past. That’s a mentality deal. Everything’s going along good."


Trying to remain headed in the right direction and find a way to return to the postseason starts as Denison opens the season against Frisco Liberty and Lovejoy in the Denton Tournament on Thursday.


"Our guys are more prepared that last year," Bollinger said. "Our pitching has gotten better. Our defense has gotten much better. Our depth is so much better."


After ending an 11-year playoff drought in 2011, the Jackets slipped back down the standings. They went 6-21 last spring, including a 2-12 mark in 13-4A action. After sitting at 2-4 in district, Denison dropped its final eight contests.


"We were pretty much in every game. There weren’t any blowouts," Bollinger said. "We should have won at least half of our district games. There was always one bad inning. We had a lot of young ones. They’re still young but at least they have that year of experience."


Catcher Jake Walters was a second-team all-district choice and graduated after leading the team with a .322 average, four doubles and 11 stolen bases. Taking over behind the plate is senior Joseph Hendricks, who split time at third base a year ago before becoming a catcher during the off-season.


"So far he’s done a good job for us," Bollinger said. "Catcher was something we were worried about because we didn’t have a returning catcher."


Will Menta will mostly like man first base when not on the mound. The senior hit .276 with a team-best 14 runs, three triples and was second in RBI with nine.


"I expect him to be a leader," Bollinger said. "He ought to be close to a .400 hitter."


Freshman Braeden Wright will be at first when Menta is pitching.


The double-play combination of junior Luke Thomas and sophomore second baseman Will Stubblefield is back and looking to improve at the plate after hitting a combined .164 — although Stubblefield walked more than he struck out.


"I expect our hitting to get better and better as we go along," Bollinger said. "The more positive plate appearances leads to a better batting average."


Junior Colton Wheeler becomes the full-time starter at third, although the pitching choices will most likely determine whether he or Menta is on the hot corner.


Junior Cade Gaddis starts the season as a utility infielder.


Clay Stubblefield moved from the infield as a junior and returns to center field after hitting .297 with six RBI and six steals.


Left fielder Drew Marr alternated between the outfield and designated hitter as a freshman and despite hitting .239 he led the Jackets with 10 RBI.


Joining the two second-team all-district picks in the outfield is Devon Blanton, who will take over in right.


Junior Wade Walters, sophomore McShane Wyatt and freshman Trey Lyday round out the outfield unit.


"Very athletic outfield," Bollinger said. "You’ve got six guys who can run. They’re a ton better."


Lyday and junior Hunter Craig, the back-up catcher, are in line to be the designated hitter depending on how the lineup shakes out.


Although there is inexperience on the mound — only one Jacket has double-digit varsity innings under his belt — Denison believes it has several capable arms.


"To me our No. 1 deal is pitching," Bollinger said. "Any given day you can’t pick out the best one because they’re all pretty good."


Menta had a 2-5 record but a 2.93 earned run average with 33 strikeouts in 40.2 innings over 11 appearances (eight starts) and was a second-team all-district selection.


Gone are four of the top five innings eaters, including Michael Parker, who compiled a 3.38 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 58 innings to earn second-team all-district honors.


Despite being a freshman, Wright, a left-hander, is expected to challenge for the top spot in the rotation by the time district arrives.


"When these kids are up, you don’t piddle with them. If they can play, you put them out there," Bollinger said. "He’s got the best movement. Kids have a hard time batting against him."


Wheeler, Blanton, Clay Stubblefield and another lefty, senior Jordan Simpson, are expected to round out the staff. Blanton and Stubblefield saw limited time on the mound a year ago.


In addition to competing in the Collin County Tournament and hosting the Ty Comstock Classic on March 6-8, the only other games on the schedule are 13-4A contests. Denison gets into district full-time against Sherman on March 11 after facing Wylie East on March 4.