By Matt Goisman
To reach the Class 5A state tournament, the McAlester Buffaloes will need to go through district opponent Durant and two teams from Tulsa.
Luckily, the Buffs will get to attempt it at home.
The Buffs will host a four-team regional baseball tournament today through Friday at Mike Deak Field in McAlester.
“They’re excited about having a home regional,” McAlester coach Justin Bond said Tuesday. “They look forward to playing their best and hopefully making a state tournament bid.
“It’s a home regional for us, but it’s definitely not a walk in the park for everybody.”
McAlester went 18-16 during the regular season, finishing second in District 5A-4 with an 11-3 district record behind champion Shawnee. That means the Buffs’ regional will feature the second- and six-seeds from 5A-4 and the three- and seven-seeds from 5A-3.
The Buffs open their Regional against Tulsa Hale, the seven-seed, at 11 a.m. The Rangers went 8-16 overall and 2-12 within the district, their only district wins coming against Tulsa-East Central, which went 0-14 in 5A-3 games.
Those two wins against East Central were also Hale’s only wins against Class 5A teams this season.
Durant plays Tulsa-Memorial at 1:30 p.m. Memorial, a three-seed went 17-18 this season, and Durant, a six-seed, went 13-17.
Durant and Memorial never played each other during the regular season. Whichever team wins plays the McAlester-Hale winner at 4 p.m. in the semifinals.
While Memorial enters Regionals with a sub-.500 record, McAlester might be hoping for a semifinal against Durant. The Buffs played the Lions twice in the first week of April, winning both games.
“We’ve progressed since that time,” Durant coach Ron Norman said.
“We’re hitting the ball better than we were a month ago. Against McAlester I think we got two hits. Hopefully we can keep the bats alive.”
Unlike the Buffs, who can probably beat Nathan Hale without using freshman pitching ace Mason Ross, Norman said he’ll have a tougher time figuring out which pitcher to throw against the Chargers. Austin Joines, Brandon Maynard and Brandon Robison have been Durant’s top three pitchers this season, but Norman said not one has been a true ace.
“The big problem is we’re young,” Norman said. “We have three seniors, and we’re just about average all the way through.”
Norman said that because Memorial and Durant were in the same district last season, he’s familiar with a couple of Memorial’s players. That includes, Adam Keller, Memorial’s senior pitching ace.
“He repeats his delivery very well. He’s very consistent,” Memorial coach Steve Irvine said of Keller. “He doesn’t let the game get to big, and he’s constantly in the strike zone.”
Keller also heads to Regionals allowing just 0.7 runs per game.
Bond said he hasn’t yet decided who’ll pitch against Nathan Hale. Having never seen Memorial, Bond said he’ll use that Durant-Memorial game to decide if he’d rather throw Ross in the semifinals or save him for Thursday.
“I feel like our pitching is deep enough that we could go and possibly win without Mason on the mound,” Bond said.
Bond said Taylor Mullins was the Buffs’ No. 2 pitcher earlier in the season, but Mullins hasn’t been able to pitch as much lately due to a tweaked back. If Ross doesn’t pitch, Grant Sontag, Brandon Green or Dalton Wood could all get the start.
“He can be as good as anybody,” Bond said of Green. “He’s already beaten Grove, which is the No. 2 seed in Shawnee’s regional.
Mullins is the only player battling an injury heading into Regionals, Bond said. And while being physically healthy is certainly important, tournaments can be as mentally draining as they are physically exhausting.
“It requires a lot of energy to finish it out,” Bond said. “Memorial and Durant are both quality clubs that can both go out and put some quality games together.
Wednesday’s action concludes with the consolation semifinal at 6:30 p.m., which will feature the two first-round losers. A loss in that game means elimination, while a win means a consolation final Thursday at 4 p.m. against the loser of the winners’ semifinal.
The first championship game will take place Thursday at 6:30 p.m. If the consolation champion wins the first championship game, a second championship game will take place Friday at 4 p.m.
“The second ballgame, for the two (first-round) winners, is a crucial ballgame because it puts you in the driver’s seat,” Bond said.
The state tournament starts Thursday at Norman North High School. The semifinals and championship will take place Friday and Saturday, respectively, at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
McAlester last made the state baseball tournament in 2012.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.