There was an obsession Tyler Bugner had — an obsession his town had — and he happily let it swallow him whole.
And when it was gone, he realized maybe there was something else out there for him. Didn’t have to look far, either.
“Growing up in Andale, it’s always about football, about winning a state championship,” said Bugner, a former defensive back. “And that’s always where my mind was at, until my senior year of baseball. That team was so much fun to be on and we were so close … I feel really fortunate I was able to find a situation so similar to that one and it’s also been nice to be able to focus on one sport.”
Bugner did find a similar situation at Newman, where he’s become the Jets’ everyday left fielder as a freshman following Class 4A All-State honors in 2013.
The unexpected part has been the level of success he’s found — Bugner is second in the Heartland Conference with a .388 batting average and leads Newman (16-17, 9-9 Heartland) with 40 hits and 27 runs headed into this weekend’s series against 10th-place Texas A&M-International (13-23, 5-13) in Laredo, Texas.
“He’s got the tools to be really good,” Newman coach Zane Ehling said. “He’s such a competitor … not scared to go out and face anybody. Doesn’t matter if the guy is really good, average, whatever … (Bugner) expects to be successful.”
The Jets need Bugner to continue his breakout campaign if they want to grab one of the four spots in the Heartland’s postseason tournament — they’re in fifth place, but have the third spot in the playoff race because first-place Lubbock Christian and fourth-place Oklahoma Christian are provisional league members this year and ineligible for the postseason. McMurry (eighth place) and Rogers State (ninth) are also provisional members in the Heartland.
Consistency has been the biggest issue for the Jets — they haven’t been able to win more than two straight games since winning a season-best five straight in March, and lost 5-4 to Southwestern Oklahoma State on Tuesday in a nonconference game in Wichita.
“We’ve had some games where we really put things together and then some games where we’re really missing something, even if it’s just very little,” Ehling said. “We need to understand we have to compete every day, to go out and take it. Because if we don’t, somebody else is going to.”
No pitcher has distinguished himself as the Jets’ ace this season — John Branum (3-5, 3.52 ERA) has been Ehling’s go-to pitcher all year, with Cody Frederickson (3-2, 4.81 ERA) taking over as the second-game starter after sophomore Jacob Furr struggled.
Senior Zak Mickens (5-3, 3.86 ERA) closes out most series and leads Newman with 50 strikeouts.
“The combination of Branum as the No. 1 guy all year and Mickens on the back end has been good for us,” Ehling said. “We can still win a lot of games, we have the competitors on the mound that can go out and do it.”
Junior second baseman Alex Lator and junior catcher Mitchel Beaudreau are both behind Bugner with matching .333 averages and tied for the team lead with 20 RBIs.
“It’s unreal how supportive the team has been for each other since day one,” said Bugner, who throws right-handed and bats left-handed. “We‘ve been putting in the hard work and now we’re in a spot where we can dictate our future and our destiny. We talk about it every day in the clubhouse, every day on the field.”
A clubhouse and field not far from Andale, where Bugner still lives, still eats his mother Melanie’s homemade meals and has tried to adapt to college life in one very discernible way.
“My mom still cooks, but I’m doing my own laundry now,” Bugner said, laughing. “All part of growing up.”