With only two starting seniors back in harness — and a lot of young ponies besides them — it appeared last February like the Pawhuska High School baseball team faced a long, arduous haul.
But, everyone fell in step quickly and pulled the program to within just two wins of playing in the state tournament.
But, there were no easy steps — particularly considering virtually all the Huskie players hardly had any preseason preparation.
“Most of the kids on our team are three-sport kids,” said Pawhuska head coach Brian Edwards. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. It just the kind of competitors they are.”
In fact, Edwards had only three players in offseason baseball.
His two mainstay seniors — Caleb Bruce and Colton Hindman — participated in wrestling and basketball, respectively, during the winter sports season.
Both quickly snapped into baseball mode, however, and set the pace for Pawhuska’s winning (14-11) season.
“Caleb was just able to play everywhere for us,” said Edwards. “He pitched, he caught, he played shortstop and he batted in the three-hole. He was just an all-around kid.”
Hindman filled the two-hole spot in the lineup and also pitched and hunkered down at shortstop.
“Both of them played tremendous roles for us,” said Edwards. “We wouldn’t have done what we did without them.”
Hindman, Bruce and Payton McCarty all batted in the .330 to .350 range to spearhead the offense.
The squad employed a lot of small ball and gap drives to give the Huskie attack most its bite.
Their run production followed a roller-coaster pattern — 14 games scoring seven-or-more runs, 11-games producing four or fewer tallies.
During one stretch — in the final 10 days of March — the Huskies reeled off six straight games scoring eight-or-more runs.
But, in their final four games — played in the Class 2A regionals — Pawhuska scraped together just seven total runs.
Despite their scoring slump, they won two of those regional games — 1-0 and 3-1 — both against Haskell.
In the 1-0 victory, which opened regional play, Bruce blanked Haskell on five hits and whiffed seven batters.
Corbin McCarty scored the game’s lone run.
The Huskies lost their next regional game to Oktaha but snapped back to eliminate Haskell, 3-1.
Randsom Jones hurled a two-hitter — with four walks and eight K’s — to tame Haskell’s offense.
Hindman, Nick Edwards and Cade McNeill each drove home one run to record all of the Huskies run.
But, Pawhuska then fell to Oktaha, 15-0, in the regional final, to bring the Huskie Express to a halt.
It had been a good ride.
Note: Oktaha (30-5) went on to lose in the state semifinal.