New head coach Kyle Wood is confident his Wildcats will rise to the occasion and he is looking to a strong senior class for leadership.
"We have the talent to play with anyone," said Coach Wood, who is starting his first season as head coach of the Wildcat baseball program that went 16-4 last season and also claimed the Big 8 championship. "Senior leadership will be very important, and we are counting on several players who haven't played at the varsity level yet."
Four seniors return from last year's starting line-up. The group is led by Travis Northern who will pitch and play left field. Last season, Northern earned first team All-Big 8 and All-District honorable mention recognition for his performance on the mound.
Other returning starters include: senior Trevor Tanner, centerfield; senior Kyle Rhea, pitcher and first base; and senior Ricky Vanderpool, shortstop and pitcher.
This year's squad will also be bolstered by the experience of six returning lettermen who include: senior Taran Holt, outfield; senior Cody Cantwell, outfield; senior Josh Dyer, outfield and second base; junior Evan Stubblefield, outfield and pitcher; senior Colton Beck, second and third base; and senior Mason Wilks, outfield.
"I am very proud of our seniors so far," said Coach Wood. "They have a very clear goals and that is to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year come district tournament time."
Several underclassmen will be asked to step up and make a difference on the field this spring. Top prospects include: junior Bo Blisard, third base and shortstop; sophomore Trey Rose, catcher and pitcher; sophomore John Cavness, pitcher and first base; sophomore Ricky Nichols, infield and outfield; sophomore Kyle Brattin, second base and shortstop; junior DJ Craig, outfield; and sophomore Ben Makela, outfield and pitcher.
Carl Junction is the clear pre-season favorite in the Big 8 Conference after finishing second in state in 2009. Monett, Aurora and Lamar also return a lot of players and are expected to be strong.
"The Big 8 is a very tough conference," said Coach Wood. "I feel like we can stack up with the best teams."
Wood is assisted this season by Clay Weldy, assistant varsity coach and junior varsity coach, Ben Abramovitz, freshman coach; and Jake Lewallen, volunteer coach.
"I am very excited about my first year as the head baseball coach after serving three years under Coach Rod Hemphill," added Coach Wood. "I hope to continue what he has built."
The 2010 baseball season opens next week when the Wildcats host the Cassville Classic tournament. Play begins on Monday, March 22 when Southwest faces off against Pierce City at 2:30 p.m., Cassville plays Pierce City at 4:30 p.m. and Cassville plays Southwest at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, March 23, Seneca and Purdy play at 2:30 p.m., Seneca and Aurora play at 4:45 p.m. and Aurora and Purdy play at 7 p.m.
The fifth place, third place and championship games will be held on Thursday, March 25 at 2:30, 4:45 and 7 p.m. respectively.