Wildcat baseball team returns senior players
With 10 senior players and eight starters returning from a team that tied for the Big 8 Conference crown last year, Cassville's Kyle Wood
is anxious to get this baseball season started and expects even bigger things this time around.
After a sluggish start, the Wildcats had an unimpressive 6-9 record last spring before turning things around and finishing 12-10.
Cassville won eight of 10 to end the season and tied Carl Junction for the conference championship. The season ended with a district semifinal loss to Mt. Vernon.
"Last year's team was definitely a learning experience for everyone that was part of Cassville baseball, coaches included," said Coach Wood. "Coming into the year, we only had four players with any varsity experience and one of those left the team. Several young players were thrown into the fire early and often, and we started the season pretty slow.
"About halfway through the season, the team started to come together," said Wood. "We started turning things around with a big win against conference foe Carl Junction, who ended up winning over 20 games. After only losing one conference game to Monett, 7-6, in the bottom of the seventh, we tied for first place in our conference with Carl Junction. That made 2011 the fourth year in a row and fifth out of the last six years that the Cassville Wildcats were outright champions or co-champions of the Big 8 Conference."
Wood said he was proud of his players and the heart they showed all season long.
"It would have been very easy to have excuses as to why we weren't winning games, but we got better and better as the season went on, and we came together as a team," Wood said. "The way we ended the 2011 season has us looking forward to the 2012 season."
Last year's weakness has become this year's strength. Evan Stubblefield was the only senior in 2011, and the trial by fire for so many young players has blessed Wood with a deep and experienced squad as the season opener nears.
Returning for the Wildcats this season are:
* Ricky Nichols, a senior who enjoyed a productive junior season. He was named to the All-State team at shortstop and was Cassville's leadoff hitter throughout the season. Nichols carried a school record .529 batting average, and 17 of his 36 hits went for extra bases. Besides stealing 11 bases, Nichols also accounted for 20 RBI even though he hit at the top of the order.
"Ricky will once again
be our short stop, but we will probably move him down in the lineup so that people are on base ahead of him and hopefully we can score more runs," said Wood. "We look for Ricky to be a good leader and continue to be a great player for us."
* John Cavness, a senior, heads up the Cassville pitching rotation. An unanimous selection as a Big 8 Conference starting pitcher, Cavness won six, lost three and recorded one save in 2011. He was also a solid first baseman in the field and provided a dependable bat in the lineup, batting .413 with a team-leading 23 RBI.
"Toward the end of the year, John started to control every game he started," said Coach Wood. "He only walked 10 batters in 60 2/3 innings while striking out 80. He even threw a six inning perfect game against
Aurora to ensure a share of Cassville's fourth straight Big 8 Championship. When he wasn't pitching, John was almost perfect in the field at first base with only one error on the year."
* Trey Rose returns for his senior season after earning second team All-Big 8 Conference recognition as a catcher. Rose was the only player besides Cavness who had varsity experience in the 2011 campaign.
"Trey has started every game but two as our catcher the past two years," Wood pointed out. "He now has great experience, and we look for him to be a big-time leader on the field from behind the plate. Trey is capable of taking control of games defensively with his quickness and strong arm, and we hope to see that. Trey had a fantastic season last year at the plate by hitting .444 as our number two hitter."
* Ben Makela, a senior, will open as the number two pitcher in the Cassville rotation. Makela finished with a 5-4 won-loss record last year and is a key to success for the Wildcats this season.
"Ben Makela was our number two starter last year and showed a lot of promise," said Wood. "We are going to be looking for Ben to be more consistent on the mound, and if that happens, Cassville will have a very good one-two punch on the mound. Ben has the ability to help us any place he plays and hits in the lineup, and we look for him to progress from last year and have a great senior year."
* Josh Sexton returns for his senior year after earning a second team Big 8 Conference selection at third base.
"Last year, Josh was put into a full-time role a lot earlier than expected," said Wood. "The plan for Josh was to play a little third base, first base and pitch. He became our everyday third baseman the second week of the season and only got better as the year went on. He started the year red hot at the plate and was our number four hitter for the rest of the year."
Along with exceeding expectations in the field and at the plate, Sexton developed into a dependable pitcher for the Wildcats.
"This year Josh is going in as our starting third baseman. He could see some time at first when Cavness is pitching, and could be as high as our number three or four pitcher. Josh is a big strong kid who wants to be good and works as hard as anybody we have," Wood said.
Along with that core group, Wood has a team with talent and depth.
Returning seniors Kyle Brattin, Kreg Myers, Stanton Stringer, Travis Honeyman and Austin Deffenbaugh all figure to contribute this year.
Garrett Kirk and Cole Beagle saw action last year and return as seasoned juniors on the Cassville squad.
The Wildcats also expect support from top newcomers Stone Phelps, Joey McCracken, Caymen Walker, Clint Luper, Joey Haney, Ty Craig and Marcus Weatherman.
Besides a strong lineup, Wood has an excellent coaching assistant. While Clay Weldy and Jake Lewallen will not be involved with the program this spring, Danny Powers will be working with the team and will handle the pitching staff.
Weldy is now the head track coach, and Lewallen, a volunteer is unable to help this year.
"Both of those guys will be missed by me and the players," said Wood.
"Coach Powers owns an impressive track record in baseball," said Wood. "He has roots in the Big 8 Conference as a former player for Carl Junction, and he continued his baseball career at the University of Central Missouri where he won a national championship and was the Division II Player of the Year."
Powers also spent three years pitching in the Minnesota Twins organization and served two years as a head coach for Liberal High School.
"He is going to bring a lot of experience to the program, which will only help us get better," said Wood. "We will be a disciplined team that will concentrate on the fundamentals of the game of baseball," Wood added. "We will also focus on team work and helping everyone
understand and thrive in their roles on the team."
Cassville opens the season on March 16 at the McDonald's Bulldog Classic in Springdale, Ark. The home opener will be on March 20, when the Wildcats host the Cassville Classic.