On Tuesday afternoon, before the subvarsity games were set to begin at Ryan, the varsity baseball team trotted out on the field and milled around the dugout in their uniforms for picture day, the unofficial start of the regular season.
Looking around, it’s evident most of the recognizable names on the field and in the lineup have departed.
Whatever explosiveness and experience the Raiders had last season has been replaced with a young and eager squad looking to make its mark as they move to Class 5A.
Ryan opens the season tonight as it plays host to the James Taylor Classic.
Ryan head coach Bret Warnack, who’s entering his 19th year with the program, was clear about what it’s going to take for his team to have a successful season.
“We’re going to have to pitch well and play good defense,” Warnack said. “We’re just young right now. We haven’t put it all together yet. We’ve shown signs of doing good things at times throughout the scrimmages, so it’s just going to be a process of us putting it all together and being consistent with it.”
Ryan senior pitcher Chris McKeehan is the sole Raider with significant varsity experience. Last season, the Raiders earned the District 4-4A title and advanced to the 4A Region I semifinals before being swept by Waco Midway.
McKeehan, a right-handed pitcher, has signed to play at Texas Pan-American next spring and was the 4-4A MVP last season, finishing with an 11-2 record and a 1.42 ERA. At the plate, he batted .340 and posted 27 RBIs from the cleanup spot.
McKeehan agreed with his head coach and said this year’s team will lack last season’s firepower while focusing on a combination of smaller things to help provide the pitching staff with run support.
“We’re not going to be hitting too many bombs this year,” McKeehan said. “But if we can move runners over and definitely do the small things of the game and get some runs up on the board, I think we should stay in ballgames.”
Senior Kraig Behrens will be looked upon to help McKeehan bolster Ryan’s starting rotation. Behrens saw a little time at varsity last season, but this year, his role on Ryan’s young squad will be heavily expanded.
“We need some other pitchers to really come in and do a good job,” Warnack said. “And Behrens definitely has the stuff to do it. He just has to gain some more confidence and get out and have some success. We feel like he really has a chance to be good for us on the mound.
“He’s just still young, experience-wise. And that’s something that’s going to come.”
Behrens, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, said he’s looking forward to his new role and to what the season will bring. And as McKeehan and Warnack said, he understands what the offense will bring this year and what challenges the Raiders’ new district (District 5-5A) will bring. While it will be tough, Behrens said he’s looking forward to the increase in competition.
“It’s a new district, so we get to play new people,” Behrens said. “So it’s even like a new experience for us because we’re not playing the same people. It’ll be exciting.”
Warnack said he’s hoping the weather doesn’t interrupt Ryan’s pre-district schedule, as his young team needs some time on the field to find a sense of consistency before district play begins, as Ryan looks to earn a playoff spot and duplicate last year’s postseason run.
“That’s going to be the biggest thing, and that’s the toughest thing with a young team — consistency,” Warnack said. “We feel like we have the talent to do it on any given day. We just have to get more consistent with it right now.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
2013 RYAN ROSTER
Head coach: Bret Warnack
Assistant coaches: Kris Slivocka, Pat Galyon, Nick Buck