For proof of the expectations for this year’s Randall Raiders baseball team, you needed to look no further than the turf room Wednesday afternoon.
While football generally takes centerstage during National Signing Day, it was the diamond talents which were on display for Randall. A total of six players national letters of intent to play at the next level this spring.
Kole Dudding led Randall’s half-dozen signees, as he confirmed his commitment to Oral Roberts University. Three other players signed to stay closer to home, opting for Amarillo College’s new program, while two others signed with Seward County College in Kansas.
For Randall coach Cory Hamilton, the day was a strong validation for the success of the program.
“You’ve got a special group here who are not only known locally, but people around the state and the nation recognize that something special’s going on in Amarillo, Texas,” Hamilton said. “They’re really special players and they’re going to be fun to watch for the next four years.”
Along with Dudding, Duncan Bowles, Payton Bush and A.J. Lucero signed with Amarillo College and Mason Gilbert and Kaden Juarez signed with Seward.
Dudding, a shortstop, will make the leap from high school to Division I college baseball in 2024. He helped lead the Raiders to the region quarterfinal in Class 5A last season and is a big reason why they’re thinking seriously about making the state tournament after dropping down to Class 4A this season.
The only other college Dudding visited was University of Texas-Permian Basin.
“I visited (Oral Roberts) in June and the good weather was part of it since it was good and hot,” said Dudding, joking about his visit to the Tulsa, Okla. campus. “I saw the facilities and the coaching staff was very welcoming. They were just so appreciative of my hard work and they’re just as excited as I am to get it going. Division I baseball has always been a dream of mine.”
Dudding is a three-year starter for the Raiders and will be one of the centerpieces of this year’s team. He anchors the defense at shortstop and also is part of a deep pitching staff.
Last season, Dudding didn’t get to play in the last two games, which fell in the region quarterfinal series against Lubbock Cooper. That’s because after hitting a home run which gave the Raiders the lead for good in game one, he suffered a freak knee injury which forced him to miss the rest of the series, and Randall was subsequently eliminated.
“That wasn’t the smartest way to go out,” said Dudding of the injury. “I stepped over every obstacle that I could and got to where I’m at right now. I took about a month in the summer and worked on my knee to make sure that never happened again. (Oral Roberts) never saw any problem with it because I was just like new whenever I came up.”
In the next month or so, Dudding is expected to show that he’s good as new for a Randall team which has championship aspirations.
“This is just a small part of the year and later on we’re expecting nothing less than to win a state championship,” Dudding said. “That’s what we’re all here for and we’re all ready to go.”
The gathering of the six seniors heading to colleges was symbolic, as they’ve developed a bond which has helped them win a lot of games. It’s no real surprise that the players who’ve signed with JUCOs did so along with a teammate.
It was a time to celebrate before getting serious about their last high school season.
“It means everything,” said Lucero, who will play third base for the Raiders this year. “When you’re little all you want to do is grow up and play college baseball. I grew up with these guys so we’re living out our dreams together.”
Bowles, who was the District 3-5A pitcher of the year last year for Randall’s district championship team, said that sharing the signing experience was only natural.
“Signing to go on to the next level with these guys, nothing beats it,” Bowles said. “We have a really great team with a bunch of chemistry here, so taking it to the next team on the next level is something special.”
Bush will play second and pitch for Randall this season.
Gilbert, a catcher, and Juarez, a first baseman, will be headed to Kansas together. But there’s business to take care of sooner.
“The best place to be is where expectations are high and that’s where we’re in,” Gilbert said. “We’re looking to fulfill those expectations and we’re feeling great about the season. We have a lot of talent on our team, but we know that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to make it happen. There are high hopes for the season for sure.”