By Chris Parker
Diamond baseball fielded a young team last year starting seven juniors and two freshmen most of the season. That squad finished 5-16 overall.
“We had to learn to play the game at a high level and realize it is not rec ball,” Diamond head coach Bill Gray said. “You have to execute on a high level if you want to be successful.”
This year, Diamond will be an experienced team led by four returning all-conference players.
Senior Kyler Terry will anchor the rotation after earning second-team all-conference honors last season. He threw 47.2 innings with 41 strikeouts and a 3.67 ERA, which were all No. 1 on the team.
“Kyler can spot his fastball and when his curve ball is working he is a very tough pitcher. He is working on a third pitch so we don’t become too predictable. He knows the game and can get batters out and limit the damage and give us a chance to win,” Gray said. “He will get the ball in the big games. He wants to win and will fight through adversity giving us a shot to win a ball game.”
Sophomore Peyton Marbough found immediate success on the varsity level last year earning first-team all-conference honors. He led the Wildcats in hitting with a .438 average, .500 on-base percentage and a .953 OPS. Marbough, a left fielder and relief pitcher, also scored 13 runs and drove in 10 more.
“Peyton hit the ball along with playing solid defense in the outfield last season. As a freshman, he hit .438 hitting in the leadoff spot most of the season. He would set the table for us and we would move him around,” Gray said. “He plays ball almost year-round. He has gotten stronger physically hopefully improving his power numbers.”
Seniors Landon Clement and Hunter Shallenburger each earned all-conference honors as well. Clement, a first baseman, was a second-team all-conference selection after he hit .344 with a .944 OPS along with 14 RBI and 13 runs scored. Shallenburger, who plays shortstop, led the team in OPS at 1.041 and on-base percentage at .532. He also had 15 runs scored and 12 RBI.
“Hunter is athletic and can do things people don’t expect in the field. He also has speed and instincts on the base paths that make him vital to our success. Landon supplies power for us in the middle of the lineup and does an exceptional job cleaning thins up at first base,” Gray said. “I expect them as well as our other seniors to be leaders on the field. They will need to lead us in work ethic and attitude. For us to get better we need apply ourselves and do the work to get better.”
In addition to Terry and Marbough, Eli Cupp, Ethan Cupp, Wesley Roughton, Jacob Atkinson and Matthew Navarro will comprise the pitching staff. Eli Cupp brings back the most experience after Terry. He was second on the team with 36.2 innings pitched and 32 strikeouts last year.
Tucker Macy (senior), Cody Neal (sophomore) and Brayden Clement (freshman) will all look for time behind the plate.
Landon Clement (first base) and Shallenburger (shortstop) will be joined on the infield by a combination of Terry and Eli Cupp (third base) and Ethan Cupp, Navarro, Jamsion Wright and Alex Stevens (second base).
In the outfield, Marbough will hold down left field with Roughton in center and Bryce Clevenger in right.
Diamond will get its strength from a strong group of senior leaders.
“Camaraderie (will be a strength),” Gray said. “These seniors have played together a long time and have had success. We now have to solidify the fundamentals and have a positive season in their senior year.”
Gray will look for a stronger offensive approach to add wins this year.
“We have to do a better job hitting the ball,” Gray said. “We hit .266 as a team last season with only three starters hitting over .300. Situational hitting and hitting to the opposite field will be a priority during the preseason.”
Diamond will open the season Mar. 18-22 at the Lamar Tiger Classic. The Wildcats will be looking for the program’s first double-digit win season since 2017.
“We should be competitive,” Gray said. “We want to put pressure on our opponents on the basepaths with smart, aggressive base running and play solid defense giving us a chance to win ballgames.”