Skip to main content

Buck Ringgold: Duncan's baseball team and its first-year coach silences the doubters to finish on top in Class 5A

Demons end up winning it all for the first time in program history.

By Buck Ringgold   

Queen was playing in the background at Oklahoma City’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark as Duncan players and coaches were celebrating their 5A baseball title May 14. 

No, it was not the Queen song you would assume they would be playing at a moment like that. Rather, it was “Radio Ga Ga” (which is a great song in its own right). 

But maybe it was appropriate that there was an unconventional Queen song being played in the midst of a state title postgame party. Because this was an unconventional team that was doing all the dogpiling when it was all said and done.

Before the season, Duncan probably wasn’t on the radar by many to be the team that ended up winning it all in 5A.

The Demons had never won a state championship. They were also breaking in a new coach, who took over in the summer, though he was very familiar with the players.

There were some very good teams in 5A this year, even a couple of favored teams that had won at least 30 ballgames. With its title-game win, Duncan maxed out at 29.

Yet, there were the Demons, finishing with their first state title in program history.

“This means everything just getting here, and it means even more,” said Grant Oliver, the Demons’ first-year coach. “It’s all about those people years before, those guys that have just worked their tail off and couldn’t make it here.

“There have been so many people commenting on Facebook and social media, just from old Duncan teams and it’s just a community that surrounds everybody and it’s something special for them, especially to be the first, I mean it’s incredible. But it’s a big deal for those guys who didn’t get the chance to play in this or didn’t get the chance to win it, it’s just really special. It’s very rare you get here and very rare that you win it.”

Oliver had been an assistant coach with the team before being promoted last July. He saw the potential the team had; in fact, the Demons lost in the regional championship last season to Piedmont.

“I knew we would have a good ball club, we had a lot of kids returning,” Oliver said. “We knew we were good last year, we just got beat in a tough game and I knew the talent returning and the bats they had would be huge for us.

“I thought at the beginning we would be good at the plate, but I didn’t know defensively and on the mound that guys would step up every single day throughout the entire year this spring.”

At one point, the Demons stood 3-3. Then, they began to gradually hit their stride, reeling off 11 straight wins.

A slight dip followed with a 2-3 stretch, including a pair of losses in a tournament in mid-April. But from there, the Demons regained their momentum.

Duncan won 10 of its next 11 games to qualify for the 5A state tournament. At that point, it was time for Oliver to dust off a motivational tactic.

“The biggest challenge going into the state tournament after we took care of regionals was we told them round one (the quarterfinals) was going to be the toughest,” he said. “Everybody’s got a good arm in this class, and if you can take care of business in round one, which we did in a 2-0 ballgame with Bishop Kelley, we knew we would have a chance with our sticks at the plate and how good they’ve been all year for us.

“So that was good to get out of that first round and I knew after that, we would give ourselves a chance at the plate.”

In their last two games, the semifinals and the championship game, the Demons scored a total of 32 runs in wins against Collinsville and Piedmont, teams that had won 35 and 32 games, respectively.

Duncan avenged that tough regional loss to Piedmont last season in style, scoring four runs in the top of the first before the Wildcats even got a chance to bat. That lead grew to 7-0 in the second and Piedmont never seriously threatened from there.

“I told them to stay the course,” Oliver said. “The middle innings are always tough; you’ve just got to survive them and don’t let big innings happen and that’s what we did.

“Looking up at the scoreboard right now, they got 1-2-1 (runs in each inning) but we didn’t let them get 3-4-5, and that’s how you win state championships; you limit big innings and you have big innings yourself, which is what we did.”

Even when the Demons were making their charge at state, they still felt like they weren’t getting their much-deserved respect. They played like they literally had a chip on their shoulder, which especially showed in the semifinal and title wins.

“They thought, a first-year head coach, they lost a lot (of graduated seniors off last season’s team), but I think just keeping our nose down (was important) and we walked into every ballpark like we were disrespected,” said senior Trevyn Stewart, who had two hits and drove in three runs as part of the early 7-0 surge in the championship game.

“I know we were disrespected a lot, and we kind of used that to fuel us and it got us here.”

The Demons also had the ability to not be too high or too low, even during their early-season struggles.

Freshman Preston Giles, who had a pivotal two-run double in the fourth that turned out to be a title-clinching hit, attributed it to the team’s “brotherhood.”

“Nobody ever got mad at each other, even when things were going down,” Giles said. “Everyone was level-headed, everyone loved each other and that’s really what helped us the most.”

And at the end, with an unconventional Queen song being played, an unconventional team ended up having the final say in 5A. They were the champions, my friends.

So, can Oliver make it 2-for-2 a year from now and pull off the repeat?

“We’re going to try,” he said.