If the Denton Broncos are going to make the playoffs this season, their defense-first philosophy will need to stand up to the scrutiny of pressure-packed situations while they yearn for the youth of the team to develop into a reliable asset.
In Denton head coach Glen Harrison’s 26-year coaching career, 14th as a head coach, the root of success to him boils down to defense, which isn’t the most popular stance in others’ opinions. With Denton returning only four starters from last season, the inexperience will be rooted in the crux of the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
“I was fortunate to have been in a lot of playoff games at the other school I was at,” Harrison said. “In order to get to the playoffs, you better be pitching well and you better be playing good defense. There are some people out there that think you have to hit, but even in the pros, great pitching will always beat good-hitting teams. So, our program is based on pitchers throwing strikes and getting ahead, and playing good defense to where you’re able to be in ballgames late in the game, which we did last year.”
Success is already in the process for Denton despite only one District 5-4A victory last season. The Broncos showed more than just signs of life. They were in the game with a chance to win throughout much of their season.
“Last year, we were involved in 10 one-run ballgames and I think four two-run ballgames, which was much better than the previous year,” Harrison said. “Even though we only won one district game, we were much more competitive than we were the year before. We fielded better. We hit better. We had fewer mistakes than we did the year prior. Our kids have worked hard this offseason.”
Preparation can only get a team so far. The Broncos are in a position where they can’t afford for a slow learning curve with a wealth of talent in the district breathing down their necks.
The Broncos will need to rise above the lower half of the district to contend with the top four teams, including crosstown rival Guyer, which look as if it will be a favorite to make the playoffs, and Wichita Falls Rider, which Harrison hopes his team’s youth will emulate in its transition to experience.
“[There are] four lead dogs that we are going to have to battle for one of those spots,” Harrison said. “Rider is a perennial state power. They went four rounds deep last year with a bunch of sophomores and juniors.
“Lake Dallas is going to be loaded. Guyer will be strong, and I think [Trophy Club] Byron Nelson is another one that is going to be pretty dang good. So that’s us, Azle, Brewer, Old High [Wichita Falls], and I think all of us are about the same. Any of those guys can beat anybody else.”
Denton will lean on junior Mark Johnson, a second-team all-district selection last season, to claim the pitching throne, with Johnson making the transition from the team’s workhorse at shortstop. Johnson will need to lead an inexperienced pitching staff that has the responsibility of the team’s transition.
“He didn’t pitch many innings last year,” Harrison said. “Even though he’s been a starter since he was a freshman, he really hasn’t been a pitcher for us. But that’s kind of where we are at. I’ve got nine guys that can throw for us, but I don’t have anybody that is going to blow anybody away. That’s why it is going to be more critical that we get ahead of people and let our defense play.”
Harrison had reserves about moving Johnson into the pitching spotlight, but with shortstop Malek Minter showing promise and progress as a varsity freshman, Harrison said he had to make the move.
“He’s probably our No. 1 right now, but he’s also our starting shortstop,” Harrison said. “In the past, I really don’t like to take my starting shortstop and make him my pitcher because now I’ve got [Minter] in there that might be a step behind where Mark is. Mark’s got a good, strong bat, but he hasn’t thrown a lot for us.”
On the offensive side, the Broncos will also rely on center fielder Terrance Lucas to use his varsity experience influence the rest of the Denton assault, starting by getting on base.
“Terrance has a lot of speed,” Harrison said. “Now that he’s played two years, he’s a little savvier than what he was when he first got here. I’m hoping that his bat comes around more so than it did last year, and I think it will. In order for us to score runs, he is going to have to find a way to get on the sack. Whether that’s bunting and being able to steal, it’s critical for him to get on as much as possible.”
The Broncos open the season at home today against Burleson Centennial and will need to employ a short memory when they meet baseball’s inevitable failure. But Harrison is hoping the team’s cohesion will translate to its transition into a hopeful playoff run.
“We have better chemistry I think,” Harrison said. “I think a lot of them like being around each other and that doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to be successful. I’ve been around teams where that’s not always the case. We’ll see how they are going to mesh in an environment with a little more stress on them and see how they respond to it. Ultimately, baseball is a game of failure. We talked about responding, getting up and getting to the next at-bat, inning or pitch.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
2013 DENTON BRONCOS
Head Coach: Glen Harrison (14th year, 3rd at Denton)
2012 Record: 9-17 (missed playoffs)
Key Players: P/SS Mark Johnson, CF Terrance Lucas, P/3B Josh Chavez