On the upward swing
Depth a welcomed sight for Wildcat baseball
In his first two seasons at Cassville, Brandon Cobb has had to battle an uphill battle of youth and roster turnover.
Last year, the Wildcats were essentially a junior varsity team playing a varsity schedule.
Despite being much younger than the competition, Cobb made no excuses last year and set out to lay the foundation for this season, one in which he has eight returning starters and a squad that is looking to flip the tables and make a run at the Big 8 Conference title.
“I am excited for the upcoming season,” Cobb said. “We have been young the past couple years, and while we are still pretty young going into this season, I am excited to see how much we have grown as a team from last year. We had trouble finishing games, and at times, our inexperience showed, but the kids always kept fighting and not giving up.
“We played Carl Junction in the first round of districts and lost 5-4 on a base hit to left where we got thrown out at home on a bang-bang play to end the game. Our kids remember that play and they were devastated by it, but as a coach I couldn’t have been more proud of the fight we showed all the way to end of that game, and it was awesome to see how much the kids wanted that game.”
Cassville lost just one starter, not to graduation, but to a change of location, in Sol Rainey.
“[Rainey] would have been back as well, but he moved to Central,” Cobb said.
Still, with eight returning starters, the Wildcats feel good about this season.
“We have pretty much everyone back, so we kind of know our roles a little bit better, but we have great competition for different starting positions as well,” Cobb said. “We are sticking to our philosophy that we have had since I have been here and that is to play our best baseball at the end of the season. We have a tough schedule and a tough conference, but all of that prepares us for district baseball time.”
Returning this season for the Wildcats are: Bowen Preddy, Jarrod Wallace, Carson Roller, Zac Acheson, Mason Hendrix, Peyton Stringer, Camden Roller, Jonny Medina and Dane Martin.
Preddy, a two-way player, led the team in hits (33), stolen bases (23), home runs (one), RBI (17), triples (two), wins (2-0), ERA (2.45) and saves (one) as a sophomore last year.
“Bowen will be our leader on and off the field,” Cobb said. “He has been putting in a ton of work this offseason to get bigger and faster. He will be our shortstop again this season and will be one of our best pitchers, as well. He will bat at the top of the lineup, so we can utilize his speed. He led our team in stolen bases last year and tied the school record. I expect him to have another great season and develop as an even better leader than he already is. I am very excited to watch him grow.”
Preddy believes this year can be special.
“I feel like our team will be much improved from last season,” he said. “We will be more experienced with more returners as well as better leadership as a team. A lot of the guys have been putting in the extra effort over the offseason by taking extra swings, working on fielding and lifting weights. I can’t wait to see what this season holds for us as a team.”
Wallace, who was named an all-conference Honorable Mention as a sophomore, is also expected to make an impact for the Wildcats. Wallace comes off a season in which he hit .322 at the plate and posted an 3.89 ERA on the mound.
Cobb said he will be a middle of the order bat and continue to be one of the primary arms.
Stringer is looking to have a bounce-back senior year after hitting .333 just two years ago. He will also be a relief pitcher. Hendrix will hit in the middle of the order, designated hitter, and play some first base as well.
Cobb said Camden Roller makes great plays in the outfield and is expected to split time between relief pitching and
spot-start duties on the mound this year. Kessinger is more of a newcomer, but is expected to compete for an outfield spot.
Juniors Carson Roller, Dane Martin, and Jonny Medina, as well as sophomore Zac Acheson, round out the returnees for the Wildcats.
Roller is expected to be another middle of the order anchor for Cassville, and Cobb said will be one of the top four arms in the rotation. Acheson had a big year as a freshman, taking over as the ace of the pitching staff and will have even more opportunities in 2019.
Cassville will count on Kade Hayward (junior), Deven Bates (junior), Hunter Chasteen (sophomore) and Lane Mitchell (sophomore) to provide depth to its roster.
“We are sticking to our philosophy that we have had since I have been here and that is to play our best baseball at the end of the season,” Cobb said. “We have a tough schedule and a tough conference, but all of that prepares us for district baseball time. All these kids got a taste of district baseball last year and we were close to getting a district win so I hope we take that feeling and use it to improve this entire season so we can get over that district hump we have had.
“All of our conference games will be tough. The Big 8 is a great conference. Our players know we have to focus on ourselves and playing the best game that we can and if we do that I believe we will be right there in all of these games. I have a great group of kids that I am excited to coach.”
Cassville opens the season in Springfield, Ark., against East Newton on Friday.
Cassville hosts the Cassville Classic beginning on Monday.