MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

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February 12, 2013

Depth on the mound vital for Cowboys

Connors State coach Perry Keith thinks his pitching staff will be up to the task after coming up short in a quest for an NJCAA College World Series berth.

Weather permitting, the Connors State Cowboys will open the 2013 baseball season at 1 p.m. today at Biff Thompson Field with a doubleheader against the University of the Ozarks. Keith, who has a 1,322-388 record, begins his 28th season with the Cowboys, said this year’s roster is capable of winning the region and returning to the NJCAA College World Series.

A year ago, the Cowboys finished 36-24 a year ago and lost 12-8 to Eastern Oklahoma State in the Region II championship game.

“When you come down to it, we were a guy short on the mound last year,” Keith said. “When we got to the tournament we fell short on the mound. We had some guys who didn’t perform on the mound like they should. This year we have some pitchers back who have grown up, have good arms and figured out how to pitch.”

Among those the coach is talking about are Jordan Romano from Markham, Ontario, Sawyer Barnard from Moore and Kelvin Rivas from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, who anchored the staff last season with a 7-1 record and a 2.06 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 23 walks.

“We went out and really got some good young arms, four or five guys that have power arms,” Keith said. “We have some guys (throwing in the 90s) like we’ve had in the past. I am really excited about those kids.”

Those young arms include Justin Ferrell from Wagoner, Zayne Dougan from Perkins and Landon Bradley from Smackover, Ark.

“Those three guys have power arms that continue to get better, along with Josh Hammill from Inola  who is a finesse pitcher and knows how to pitch,” Keith said. “Our staff is much improved this season.”

Hammill is a left-hander.

In the outfield the corners have Eli Roundtree and Phillip Diedrick. Christian Perez, a freshman from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, came in as a shortstop and Keith has moved him to center field.

“(Christian) a very athletic kid and will be our leadoff hitter,” Keith said. “He has excellent range.”

The catching duties will be handled by Jiro Morales, a sophomore from Hatillo, Puerto Rico.

“We also have two or three young guys that can catch and throw, so I am very happy about our defense,” said Keith. “We had a good fall and I think we are back to where we should always be now.”

In the infield, Korey Keith, the coach’s son and a Warner grad, returns at first base and is the top returning hitter at .346. Victor Claudio is at second base, with Dalton Daniels and Jacob Borrego seeing duty at shortstop. Borrego will also see some play at second, with Yariel Gonzalez and Tyler Fourkiller alternating at third.

“Yareil has a chance to be an outstanding player,” said the coach, adding, “We are really solid in the infield.”

At the plate Keith expects the Cowboys to be solid but lacking power.

“We have a good balance of left- and right-hand hitters,’’ said Keith. “We’ll try to put pressure on the opposition and manufacture runs like we have in the past. You can’t sit back and wait for the big hit these days, like Earl Weaver, with these bats.”

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