Opening Day is officially here for the Mustang Broncos.
Lacy Darity’s squad kickstarts the 2023 fastpitch season tonight with a home matchup against the Edmond North Huskies at 6:30 p.m. It’s also the first district game for the Broncos, who return as the reigning District 1 champions.
Mustang has been one of the most consistent programs in the state over the course of Darity’s three seasons, reaching the state tournament all three years. They also have a pair of slow pitch state championships, which includes their title run last spring.
And that’s where the fourth-year skipper sees the potential.
Not only did the team notch its second state title just a few months ago, but they also did it without a single senior on the squad. This year’s upperclassmen stepped into more prominent roles earlier than expected, building stock with teammates as the “undoubted” leaders during that run.
“It’s one of the strongest groups we’ve had as far as leadership goes,” Darity said. “Some of them have two state championship rings and it was this group that really stepped up and pulled those underclassmen along in the spring.
“For them to step into those roles and lead without question… I think it just carries over to this season. They also know it’s their last go around and are excited to see what they can do.”
The Broncos return eight seniors to start the season, including Eden Anderson, Shelby Bolden, Fae Cornish, Rylee Hannon, Arionna McElroy, Emerson Pegram, Shaye Rowe, and Kenzie Sessions.
Anderson, Cornish, McElroy, Pegram, and Sessions were all named All-District in 2022 as well as sophomores Lexy Kierstead and Reese Poage.
With plenty of experience and firepower, Darity is eager to see how the lineup meshes early in the season. She also hinted at playing a little faster at the top and bottom of the order.
“We’re definitely excited to see what we can do offensively,” she said. “Obviously every team has to support itself by scoring a bunch of runs and I think we are more than capable of doing that.
“We’ve added a little more speed than we’ve had in years past so I’m anxious to see how that works out, too. And then the power hitters in the middle… We’re ready to see them go to work.”
Not much has changed defensively as the Broncos will be strong and versatile behind their pitching staff. McElroy is expected to move behind the plate to replace All-State backstop Logan Pickelsimer and Kierstead could see more time at second base. Outside of those two moves, Darity says the defense remains the same.
“We have kids playing positions that they’ve played for a while now,” Darity said. “We have a lot of experience out there and I’m comfortable with where we’re at in that aspect. If we play fundamentally sound defense, we can make all of the plays we’re supposed to make.”
The biggest difference for the Broncos will be inside the circle as now former starters Landry Garza and Kiera McGahee graduated in May. Both were named to the Class 6A West All-State team coached by Darity this summer.
Juniors Amelia Mason and Aubrey Hall are expected to take over and handle the bulk of the starts in 2023. Mason pitched primarily on the junior varsity team last season while it will be Hall’s first season in the program.
“We like what we’ve seen so far out of them in the summer and scrimmages,” Darity said of the team’s newly former 1-2 punch. “But until we get into some games where results matter, we don’t really know yet how to work it.
“They’re both pretty similar in their style with Aubrey throwing probably a little harder while Amelia has a little more spin and off-speed. They’ve both held opposing teams below three runs in scrimmages, so we’re excited to see what’s in store as we get going.”
Darity says things are solid within the program and that the players are starting to get in a groove with each other over the last two weeks. They have played intersquad games to build confidence and have tried to break up the monotony of practicing without games.
“The atmosphere is good,” Darity explained. “I think everybody is just ready to get started. It’s not typical to get two full weeks of practice leading up to the season, so the girls are anxious to play games that matter.
“There’s also the hope that we carry the momentum from the state title in the spring into this fall. We didn’t have any seniors on that squad, which is pretty unique in Class 6A. That helped build a lot of confidence in this group and they’re ready to make another run at the state tournament and hopefully make that last game.”
2023 presents a new challenge as the Class 6A districts have been rearranged. Now, the Broncos will match up against four east side schools twice this season, including Bixby, Jenks, Ponca City, and Muskogee. The other three home-and-home district teams will be Edmond North, Midwest City, and Putnam City West.
“It’s unique in the sense that we’re not used to making those trips during the week throughout the regular season,” Darity said of the changes. “I think it changes the 6A landscape and makes it different for sure.”
The Broncos host Edmond North tonight before hosting Deer Creek in a non-district game on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
“Again, we’re just excited to get going and see what the season has in store,” Darity said. “We return seven starters but may have more questions than we’ve ever had.
“The goal is to stay consistent throughout the regular season and get to the state tournament. I think we definitely have what it takes and the group to get it done. After the last four years, they’re eager to reach that last game in OKC.”