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Exit Interview: Oxford Baseball

It’s been two years now, but Oxford has learned some lessons about moving up and playing 6A baseball.

Depth and strength, explained head coach Chris Baughman. It’s the difference in depth and strength that really separates 6A baseball from that of the lower divisions in Baughman’s viewpoint. And it’s something that can be displayed by the team that ended their season in back-to-back years – DeSoto Central.

“They didn’t have any holes in their lineups. There’s no easy outs. That doesn’t happen every year… very rarely do you have a lineup that’s as stacked as they were,” Baughman said. “You compare us to DeSoto Central, and obviously one of the places that they outshine everyone is with their power numbers. That comes in the weight room.”

That DeSoto lineup has four players committed to play SEC baseball in the future. Three of the position players, plus pitcher Cade Smith, are Mississippi State commits. Looking at basic statistics, DeSoto Central had twelve players take at-bats in 23 games or more. The worst batting average of the twelve hit .280. The difference is that Oxford’s tenth and eleventh person hit below .200.

The Oxford athletics department as a whole brought in a new strength team a few years back. Baughman says it’s something he certainly has seen tangible improvements on quickly. But it’s still a work in progress. As for the depth? Oxford is a high school. They can’t recruit players. A lot of it comes down to who is available and when.

“I was reminded by a lot of the coaches that (the DeSoto Central team) was us a few years ago,” Baughman said. “Everything in high school goes in cycles, no matter what sport you look at. If you can be consistent and competitive year in and year out, you’re doing a pretty good job. That’s kind of where we are, just waiting for that next cycle to come through. And these kids we have give us a good chance to be very competitive next year.”

Oxford will start the 2019-20 season down six seniors, five of whom were in the everyday Charger lineup. It’s a very close-knit group, four of them playing together for ages. The two that jumped in later in the career, Baughman said “fit in seamlessly.” But as goes with high school sports, it comes in cycles. The Chargers replace six seniors but do it with one of the largest junior class in recent memory. It’s a class described as maybe not the most talented, but arguably the hardest working in Baughman’s tenure.

“I don’t want to say these juniors are going to be better than the guys they’re replacing, but they can definitely step in next year and play a significant role,” Baughman said. “A lot of those (rising seniors) are really good. They’ve got a good shot at contributing in a major way.”

When asked to single out a few guys that he expects to take a big leap going into their senior years, Baughman had two names in mind. Alex Patterson and Carson Gentry played sparingly (in Patterson’s case) or none at all (in the case of Gentry). But it’s two guys the coaching staff clearly has a lot of confidence in.

Looking back, this wasn’t the most talented Oxford team and it certainly wasn’t the deepest. However, it’s still a team that finished 6-3 in their region and won 20 games. It’s a team that won two playoff series, one against perineal power Madison Central, before losing to the state champion in DeSoto Central. It’s a team that battled serious injuries, suspension and sickness all year, and still reached 20 wins.

“I thought this group really overachieved. The overarching message all year was ‘fight through adversity,’ Baughman said. “I think our depth really benefited from dealing with that adversity. We got some guys in there that are going to have to play more next year.”

Oxford is a baseball program and community with high standards and long tradition, but in no way can you look at this past season as a failure. Moving forward, that adversity dealt with this year could very much be an advantage going into the next year.