By Ryan Butler

Coming off the loss of 11 seniors and playing in one of baseball’s toughest districts in its largest classification, it could be understood that the Durant varsity team might struggle in 2013. Instead, the Cougars have done the opposite, jumping out to a 6-2 record to start the season and proving to the area, and the classification, that they are not to be taken lightly.

Durant’s first priority this season was not only to try to replace the loss of last year’s seniors but bond together this year’s team.

“Now that we only have four on staff, we wanted to make sure everybody was together,” said head coach, Butch Valdes. “We’ve done some work together and they’re jelling at the right time. We’re hoping to get a good roll and continue getting stronger.”

Bonding has included a team camping trip and a Harlem Shake video. Valdes said that’s helped the team in the early half of the season, which manifested itself with big wins over Bloomingdale and Brandon. The Cougars entered the Saladino Tournament with a 3-1 record in class 8A-7 and a spot at second place in the district.

On the field, the Cougars are relying on a young infield to pick up where the class of 2012 left off. First baseman Chaz Fowler is the group’s veteran and a team leader as well as the team’s No. 2 pitcher.

The team’s number one starter is also one of its most important offensive players. Senior Tyler Danish has stepped up as the team’s ace as well as one of its best power hitters. Danish showed off both talents with eight strikeouts in his team’s game against the Eagles to top off a two-homerun effort. Luke Heyer, the team’s centerfielder, is also a major part of the team’s offensive power, batting in the pivotal number- four spot in the order.

Valdes said with his pitching and offense set, defense will be the difference down the stretch. The talent level at 8A keeps most games low-scoring and close, meaning an unearned run could turn a win into a loss. While the Cougars are far from flawless, they’ve proven that they can overcome challenges from a young roster. They also have the on-the-field talent to compete with any of their opponents down the stretch.

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