Every team is bigger than one player — even if that player may be the best in the state.
No one can deny a big reason Durant’s baseball team in its position is Tyler Danish, a University of Florida commit who likely will go in the top rounds of this summer’s Major League Baseball draft.
You would have to be quite the optimist to think the Cougars would still be playing at this point in the season without Danish.
The right-hander has been practically un-hittable this year. Opposing teams aren’t only weary; they flat-out fear facing Danish on the mound. According to posts on social media sites such as Twitter, they want no part of the standout.
But, teams are finding that they have more to worry about than Durant’s headlining ace. The Cougars’ supporting cast isn’t too shabby, either.
Durant’s “other” senior pitcher, Chaz Fowler, is a solid ace in his own right. The lefty may not have the fastball power of his counterpart, but mixed in with a good change-up, Fowler (7-3, 1.43 ERA, 70 K) can be a tough pitcher to face on the mound. Put him on a Danish-less team, and he could easily be a No. 1 guy.
As much of an asset as Danish is on the mound, he also is Durant’s biggest threat at the plate (.415 avg., 24 RBI), especially this post season, where he is hitting .692 with four RBI and three home runs since the beginning of the district tournament.
His ability to deliver in clutch situations has been huge for the Cougars during their postseason run, but Danish can’t do it alone — and he hasn’t.
The best way to describe the rest of the Cougars offense is scrappy and opportunistic. Only one other player — Luke Heyer — has hit a home run this season, giving Danish eight of his team’s nine long balls. Although home runs can be exciting from a spectator standpoint, they’re not always needed to win ball games.
Durant’s hitting as a team has improved throughout the season, a credit to the hard work of the Cougars’ coaching staff.
Head coach Butch Valdes said he and his staff have focused on two-strike hitting, shortening up and opening up to cut down on strikeouts. The plan has worked out well, especially in the region championship against Timber Creek, where Durant’s bats kept making contact and putting the ball in play. That led to to a four-run fifth inning, where the Cougars had RBIs from Heyer, Paxton Sims and Tyler Long, along with two balls put in play that resulted in Timber Creek errors.
It may be a cliché, but you have to put the ball in play to score runs, and the Cougars have been able to do just that.
Heyer came up huge for Durant in the region title game, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, including the tying run in the third and the go-ahead in the fifth on a bloop single. The junior is hitting .375 this season, which ranks second on the team, only behind Danish. Heyer assumed the cleanup role against Timber Creek, hitting in the four spot behind Danish. When Danish was intentionally walked in the third to pitch to Heyer, it lit a fire under the junior, and he delivered.
“To hit behind Tyler Danish has to be one of the toughest things to do at this level,” Valdes said of Heyer. “He comes through and gets the job done — whether it’s pretty or not.”
It takes nine players to play baseball, not one superstar. Those other eight aren’t there to just fill out the roster. And it will take a collective effort from everyone to bring home Durant’s first state championship.WiHack Mobile