When Gus Durst was a freshman, his parents agreed to let him participate in fall baseball workouts only if coach Brent Hall would drive him home each day. Because Durst’s parents were dairy farmers, there was no alternate way home besides the school bus.
One of Hall’s friends who lived in the same direction accompanied them one day. He couldn’t believe Hall was making the 40-mile round trip for the scrawny freshman.
“When I dropped Gus off, he said, ‘Man, why are you taking him out that far,” Hall recalled his friend saying.
Hall replied that he believed Durst would be a good ballplayer and the trips were worth it.
“‘That kid is going to be a good ballplayer?’ Hall remembers his friend saying. “‘He’s no bigger than a popcorn fart.'”
Hall had forgotten the story from four years ago. His friend didn’t. After Durst led Houston on an improbable run all the way to the state championship game, the friend admitted he was wrong about Durst.
“He said, ‘You remember that time I rode with you to take him home?'” Hall said. “Now I know why you were taking him home that far.'”
The skinny kid that didn’t look like much of a player as a freshman never grew much bigger. But he certainly developed into a one-of-a-kind player.
Durst made his mark in multiple ways for the 2007 Tigers. He led Houston in every major offensive and pitching category as the catalyst for the Class 2 runners-up. He was awarded with a spot on the first team of the coaches’ all-state team.
As good as he was on the mound, Durst made his biggest impact with his bat. He set team records and landed in the state record books with 16 doubles – tied for fourth-most in state history – and 55 RBIs – tied for eighth-most – as Houston’s top run producer. He also batted a team-best .483 with an .853 slugging percentage.
“I go up there with the same mindset every time of just hitting the ball,” Durst said. “It seemed like every time there was someone on base, especially at the beginning of the year, I drove them in.”
Durst’s biggest blow came in the most important game of the season. With Houston trailing Blair Oaks 8-5 in the sixth inning of the title game, Durst hammered a 1-0 fastball from all-stater Travis Henke off the center field wall. The blast brought home three runs to tie the game, and the Tigers eventually scored two more times for a 10-8 advantage.
Durst was expecting a fastball from Henke, who didn’t lose a decision in two years and had pitched in 17 of Blair Oaks’ 22 wins, after a short conversation with Hall.
“There’s nobody on our team that I’d rather have up than him in that situation,” Hall said.
Durst’s importance on the mound was evident as his first team all-SCA selection as a pitcher. He made the all-state team as a DH. As Houston’s staff ace, Durst threw complete games in five of his eight starts, highlighted by victories in the district final, quarterfinal and semifinal. He finished 8-3 with a 2.00 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 63 innings.
Durst could throw as hard as 82 mph, but he gave up some speed for consistency. With pinpoint accuracy, Durst threw five different pitches – fastball, change-up, slider, overhand curve and splitfinger – for strikes. His marksmanship in the Tigers’ quarterfinal win impressed the home plate umpire enough that he told Hall between innings he had never seen a high school pitcher with that type of control.
“There were many games he single-handedly won himself,” Hall said. “As far as an all-around player, he’s probably the best player I’ve ever had.”