By Lily Belcher
The Durant High School varsity baseball team took the field just as the sun dipped below the right field wall. The stadium lights turned on and the Durant Cougars’ starting pitcher, junior right hander Weston Sanchez, took the field to throw the first pitch of the game. Just two hours later, Coach Ulysses Valdes claimed his 200th win as a Durant baseball coach on February 24.
“He deserves this accomplishment because he’s worked hard to get it. He’s at every varsity game and he even goes to every [junior varsity] game. There [are not] many head coaches that go that far for their program,” said sophomore utility player Aiden Welsh. “He also has high expectations from everyone on the field, but if you make a mistake, he will teach you how to do it better.”
Valdes has worked at Durant for 14 years, making an impact not just as a high school gym coach, but also as a baseball coach and mentor. His humble demeanor, dedication to his games and confident leadership have led to his success as a coach and his milestone win, which he credits back to the team.
“It’s all about them, not really for me. My goal is to make sure they succeed, and that’s about it,” said Valdes. “They definitely have something special. It’s not just me. It’s them realizing how good they are.”
The game started off slow, remaining scoreless through five innings, but Valdes’ offense came alive in the bottom of the sixth inning. Durant scored three runs off six hits, with infielder Carlos Morales earning two RBIs and infielder Javier Quintana earning the third. The Durant Cougars secured the win and the shutout over the Plant City Raiders with a stellar pitching performance by relief pitcher Ronnie Galletti in the top of the seventh, the final inning for high school games.
“Amazing,” Valdes said about the win. “Just the win itself was amazing. The 200th win was definitely a bonus, and definitely a bonus that it was against [Durant’s hometown rivals], Plant City.”
While Durant is halfway through the 2021 season, Valdes is looking to the playoffs, hoping to lead his team to the districts and advance to the regionals and states for the first time in five years.