Many ingredients are in place for the Shawnee High School baseball program to have a feast in 2020.
The Wolves have been bumped down a class from 6A to 5A and welcome seven returning full-time starters to the lineup this spring.
“We have a lot of experience coming back. It's a hard-working team. They like to be around each other and love to play the game,” said third-year Shawnee head coach Kevin Paxson.
The Wolves bowed out of regionals last season after close losses to Enid and Stillwater. Now Shawnee will be involved in a 5A district with Coweta, Collinsville, Glenpool, Tulsa Memorial, McAlester and Durant.
“The chemistry of this team should make it fun,” Paxson said. “The experience they've been through the last two years should be a big help. They are battle-tested. They started the (2019) season slow but really played well at the end.”
Five of the Wolfpack senior starters have committed or signed with junior colleges for next season. That includes third baseman Carson Payne and catcher J.T. Johnson, who are both headed to Carl Albert State College; center fielder Scout Cawvey, who is going to Northern Oklahoma Junior College-Tonkawa; outfielder Austin Gonzales, who is headed to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas and outfielder J'Briell Easley, who is going to Cowley County College in Kansas.
Payne, a three-year starter, not only plays third base but will be a part of the pitching rotation.
“He's a tough player who is solid, versatile and can play second or third base,” said Paxson. “He's a strike thrower who has command of his pitches – a fastball, changeup and breaking ball.”
Johnson has beefed up some for his stint behind the plate this season.
“He receives the ball really well and has dedicated himself to the weight room, gaining about 15-20 pounds, which should help his overall game,” Paxson said. “We expect him to hit in the middle of the lineup.”
Cawvey is the speedster of the squad and is expected to bat in the leadoff spot. He batted .393 last season with one homer, three triples, five doubles and 18 runs batted in.
“He might be one of the fastest players I've ever coached. He's strong, athletic and a base-stealer,” said Paxson. “Defensively, he is one of our best players and was our leading hitter last year.”
Easley, who is currently involved in basketball, will play in the outfield and will be a part of the pitching rotation as well.
“He's an athlete. He will make unbelievable plays in the outfield, has a strong arm and has power at he plate,” Paxson said. “He has three pitches and can locate them well.”
Gonzales brings an athletic presence to the lineup as well. He hit .292 with a homer and 14 RBIs in 2019.
“He's a left-handed hitter and has great power at the plate. He has a strong arm,” said Paxson. “He can play all three positions in the outfield.”
Senior Tanner Bare will be making the move from outfield to first base this season and should be a part of the pitching rotation.
“He's a middle of the lineup guy. He's got some power and he is starting to fit in well at first base,” Paxson said. “He's starting to get the hang of it and he's starting to feel comfortable over there.”
Junior Krew Taylor is the returning shortstop.
“He's athletic and fundamentally sound,” said Paxson. “He's a lot stronger this year and I think his hitting will vastly be improved because of his strength. He is solid, has good hands and great feet.”
Sophomore Bauer Brittain, who is already a University of Oklahoma commitment, is expected to play second base and will be part of the Wolfpack pitching rotation.
“He definitely has good hands and a strong arm. He's a gap-to-gap type hitter with some power,” Paxson said. “He has a devastating changeup and hard slider. He throws hard in the upper 80s and can touch the 90s.”
Others seeing mound duty for Shawnee include junior left-handers Trace McDaniels and Seth Robertson along with sophomore right-hander Kason Rogers, 6-4 right-hander Brylin Janda, a move-in from Byng, and two athletes coming from wrestling – Cade Chamblin and Kantynn Kaseca. Chamblin could also play some left field while Kaseca could serve as a first baseman or designated hitter.
“Trase had a few innings last year, but will have a lot more this year and Seth will see some innings for us,” said Paxson. “Brylen will be in the rotation. He's a tall, lanky pitcher who has good velocity and a sharp breaking ball.”
Others expected to contribute are senior Rob Campbell in the outfield, junior Kolby Mitchell at first base and designated hitter, junior Dan Campbell in the infield and sophomore Boston Tully as backup catcher.
Members of the Wolves' coaching staff include Drew Burris, Kole Strayhorn, Landon Harper, Justin Rivera, Garrett McKee and Kevin Ball.
Note: Shawnee opens the season Monday at Tulsa Memorial.