Baseball Wildcats look to youth for leadership
The Cassville Wildcats baseball team finished the 2012 season 15-8 overall and 7-0 in conference play to claim their fifth consecutive Big 8 title.
The Wildcats earned the top seed in the district tournament but were upset by Reeds Spring in the semifinals in an extra inning thriller.
Dealing with the heartbreaking loss in district play was tough enough for the Wildcat faithful. The reality of losing six starters has just begun to sting.
Ricky Nichols, John Cavness, Trey Rose, Ben Makela, Kyle Brattin, Kreg Myers, Joey McCracken, Josh Sexton and Travis Honeyman all graduated from last year's team.
Those nine black and gold lettermen combined to pitch 22 of Cassville's 23 contests and had a collective 2.58 ERA. Offensively, the Wildcats must replace 140 hits that resulted in 67 RBIs.
"We had a very senior heavy team last year. We returned eight starters from 2011 and expected to compete in every game," said Cassville coach Kyle Wood. "We really amped up our schedule with the hope to compete at the end of the year. That group of players had been the nucleus of our team for the past thee years and had a lot of success. Several of them will be difficult to replace."
Cassville only returns five players with varsity experience. The Wildcats' lineup could feature four or five sophomores in the first game of the season.
While the Wildcats have several question marks heading into this season, the cupboard of talent is far from bare in the Cassville clubhouse.
Returning for the black and gold are: seniors Garrett Kirk, Cole Beagle, Devon Jenkins and Stone Phelps; juniors Ty Craig, Kayleb Sparks and Marcus Weatherman; and sophomores Chase Jackson, Mason Loveland, Jordan Fisher, Gabe Kirk, Brady Blisard, Andrew Whitham and Brett Nickle.
Garrett Kirk is entering his third season as the Wildcats' centerfielder. He has great speed and has gained a lot of confidence in fielding. Woods thinks Garrett is one of the best defenders in the Big 8 Conference.
Craig started for the Wildcats as a sophomore and played at second and third base. This season, Cassville will count on him to be the everyday shortstop with the occasional pitching role. Craig is a very smooth infielder with very soft hands. He is also athletic and has a good arm.
Beagle has been an infield utility player who ended the last two seasons playing second base for Cassville. He has a lot of range and good arm strength. The Wildcats need him to secure the middle-infield defense.
Phelps is a good athlete with a strong arm. He will be tasked with anchoring a corner outfield spot. Wood needs Beagle to improve at the plate and be a team leader.
Weatherman has patiently waited for three seasons to step into the starting roster as a catcher. He is the only Wildcats' player with varsity pitching experience. Look for the Wildcats to try to find another person to catch. Wood stated that Weatherman has enough stuff to be a very good pitcher.
Gabe Kirk saw action on the varsity squad as a freshman last season, becoming the first freshman to letter in Wood's seven--year tenure. Although just a sophomore, Cassville is counting on Gabe to be a big contributor. He has a very strong arm and the potential to be very good at the plate. He can play several positions in the field.
Blisard is a smooth athlete. He makes everything look easy. Blisard will help Cassville in the outfield and could see innings on the mound. He has a good work ethic and will only get better at the varsity level.
Whitham could figure into the Wildcats' lineup at several different spots. His has great plate discipline and could work himself into the defensive lineup at a corner infield position.
Nickle has a great work ethic and loves the game of baseball, and it shows every day he is at practice. He has a good arm and is always working to improve.
Sparks is a big target at first base. He works hard and will be counted on to do the job at first.
Jenkins suffered an injury at the end of last season. He had surgery and has been rehabbing. Cassville expects him to be back this season.
Jackson will be used as a designated hitter this season. He has a very smooth swing who will continue to work on his fielding and arm strength.
Loveland will vie for time behind the plate as a catcher.
Fisher is a great kid with an excellent work ethic and will add depth to the outfield.
"The Big 8 Conference seems to get better and better every year, and we have been lucky enough to win or share the championship several times," said Wood. "It is a source of pride for our program, because it is a sign that we have a real program, not just a couple of players here or there that make us good."
Cassville opens the 2013 campaign in the Springdale (Ark.) McDonald's Tournament on March 15.