Daulton Horton was the starting first baseman and No. 3 pitcher for the Guyer Wildcats in 2013, meaning he pitched in tournaments and often was used in a closer’s role in district play with the possibility of starting Game 3 of a postseason series.
He entered his senior season elevated to the No. 2 starting role before an injury forced him into being the staff ace.
All Horton has done with that opportunity is go undefeated and earn the distinction of being the only starting pitcher in District 5-4A to beat every team once.
“He fights every pitch,” junior shortstop Aaron Studdard said. “No matter if it’s 3-0 [count] or 0-2, he’s only worried about that next pitch. He’s putting his team in the best chance to win. He fights until the game is over to make sure we get the win every time he’s out there.”
To Guyer coach Johnny Kinzy, the mentality Horton gives his teammates is the key to his success.
The senior, who signed to play baseball at Hesston College, a junior college in Kansas, does not have the stuff typically associated with a pitcher who possesses an 8-0 record and 2.28 ERA. He sports a fastball in the low 80s and what he terms an average curveball.
The key for Horton this year has been his offseason development of a changeup that sits in the upper 60s. It has progressed from a new pitch to one he can lean on.
“It’s a great pitch for him,” Kinzy said. “The thing about it is we call it in any count. That’s the key. He can throw his changeup as a quality pitch regardless of the count.
“That, as a hitter, is extremely difficult to overcome. His fastball is good with location. He won’t blow it past people, but when you have that changeup, then guess what — the fastball just got faster.”
Horton, who will start Game 1 of a best-of-three bi-district playoff series against Saginaw on Friday night, credits the defense behind him for making him one of the best pitchers in a competitive district. Studdard’s addition at shortstop has been huge for Guyer, as has the play up the middle of center fielder Brandon Hendricks and catcher Luke Cullum.
Add in another year of experience for right fielder Tristan Brown and the emergence of freshman left fielder Connor Herriage, and Kinzy insists this team is the best defensive one he’s put on the field at Guyer.
Horton has taken notice, and has racked up his undefeated record with 37 strikeouts in 49 innings.
“I’m not going to strike a lot of people out,” Horton said. “I’m just going to let them hit it, and the defense will have my back the whole time. We hardly ever have any errors.
“I’m just going to let them hit it. Ground balls are great. Fly balls are great. Anything that can give my guys a chance to catch it, I’ll take it.”
Horton entered the season as the No. 2 pitcher behind Kyle Cantu, who signed to pitch at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Instead, Cantu battled injuries for the second straight year and hasn’t pitched since the district opener after making a few tournament appearances.
Kinzy said the injuries were unfortunate for Cantu but a blessing in disguise for Horton, who took the ace role and ran with it.
“Daulton would’ve loved Kyle Cantu to be a part of this staff,” Kinzy said. “But knowing Daulton, I think it motivated him that much more. As soon as the guy that was going to be your ace is no longer your ace, that gave him the opportunity with the door wide open. There were probably some question marks out there, but not in Daulton’s mind.”
Added Horton: “I’ve improved a crazy amount. Just from the changeup, especially. I have a defense that has my back. I’m throwing strikes and we make plays on them. It’s just been a lot of hard work paying off.”
That hard work has given Kinzy and his team an unwavering confidence when Horton is on the mound, and so far the results have been without a blemish.
“Some of the aces we’ve had in the past — he may not have the velocity of those guys,” Kinzy said. “He might not have the overall talent with secondary pitches. But he has the most important characteristic of the Jud Kinzys, Jacob Rhames and Brad Kottmans of being the ace, and that’s anytime he steps on the mound his entire team believes we’re going to win a baseball game.
“When he’s out there, the Guyer Wildcats all know they’re fixing to win a baseball game.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.