Feb. 3—Youth will be the dominant theme for the Connors State Cowboys baseball team as they get their season underway on Monday.
"This season we will be defined by how much our young guys continue to improve," said NJCAA Hall of Fame coach Perry Keith.
Keith and the Cowboys will be trying to shake off an uncharacteristically disappointing 2023 season that saw them win 50 games but lose two straight in the Region 2 tournament to end the season early. Perhaps the biggest plus of the year was watching freshman Brady Cerknowyk become a standout player who was in the top three in the nation in batting average, home runs and RBIs before signing with the Detroit Tigers.
"We will be strong up the middle with the return of shortstop Elijah Alexander from Moore who hit .454 with 10 homers and 65 RBIs last year and second baseman Blake Simpson who batted .398 with five home runs and 54 RBIs," said Keith. "But the rest of our position players will be freshmen."
After having the fall semester to evaluate talent, Keith outlined what he thinks the starting lineup will look like on opening day.
"At third base we'll have Cale Clay from Rattan and switch hitter Joseph Guttierrez who may also see some action. Alexander and Simpson will be the combo at second and shortstop. First base is still a bit undecided, and Pierre Cabral will probably start at catcher with Solomon Harwood backing him up. In the outfield it will be J.T. Melson from Rogers, Arkansas along with David Stanley. In centerfield Teonis Pimintel will probably start until Daury Manzanillo returns from wrist surgery late this month hopefully," said Keith (1807-513 in 38 years at Connors) who last year became the winningest active baseball coach in NJCAA history.
The pitching staff is headed up by Red Oak's Chase Pair who pitched out of the bullpen last year and had a 3-1 record with a 2.86 ERA, Tyler Bates who was 7-0 in 2023 and Frangley Morel who was 8-1 last year. They'll be joined by Rolfy De Paula, Gabriel Baldera and Twine Palmer from Kiowa who Keith feels can be a special player before he's done at Connors.
As has been the case the past few years, Keith figures his Cowboys and Seminole will be the teams to beat in the conference with Rose State being an improved team.
One of the highlights of this year's schedule will be a matchup with NEO on April 3 at Driller Stadium in Tulsa.