Bulldogs young, but excited

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Team takes aim at conference hardware

The Wheaton baseball team is a young one this season, but the Bulldogs bring back some experience and have set lofty goals for the spring campaign.

Tucker Dermott, Wheaton baseball coach, said the team has set two clear goals — have a winning season and compete for a conference championship.

“As a group, we sat down and discussed our goals last fall for this spring season,” he said. “A big thing for this group was to get back to a .500 team and Wheaton hasn’t had that in a while. Obviously, we want to change that. We are an extremely young team. However, the youth on this team already has a couple of seasons under their belt. They’ve had to step in and fill roles already at a younger age, given our numbers in the past. We already have good numbers that are going to play and this will be the biggest team I’ve had since coming to Wheaton with 16 players. If we can take care of our mistakes and control what we can, we can go far.”

Gone are five seniors, including First Team All-Conference honorees Jack Mitchell and Ty Hudson, as well as Brody Prewitt, Jackson Thompson and Brandon Vue.

Five return to this year’s team, including senior Kelton Park, sophomore Devin Bateman, junior Elijah Holenda, junior Kollin Garner and sophomore Camren Brattin.

“Kelton was Second Team All-Conference and All-District last year,” Dermott said. “He will be our ace on the mound, one of our top hitters, and our team captain. Kelton has great baseball IQ and plays the game hard and the right way. He will be huge for the success of our team. Devin will be a middle of the order of bat who can play anywhere. He’ll predominately play SS/3rd and pitch depend- ing on who else is on the mound. He is a young player that has already had a big impact and has a ton of success and varsity experience already. Second team all district last year.

“Elijah will play first and DH and hit in the middle of the order. He is extremely coachable and a very hard worker. We are looking for a big spring from him. Kollin has played multiple spots for me in the past and is the definition of a utility player. He primarily played second base but will be looking at taking over as catcher for us this year and will need to step up for us. Camren has started in the outfield since he was a freshman in fall baseball. He can cover a lot of ground out there and has more innings than anyone in the outfield under his belt.” Last season, Park hit .241 with 11 RBI, 16 stolen bases and an ERA of 4.16. In the fall, he hit .367 with 11 RBI and

posted a 2.24 ERA. Holenda last season hit .311 with 9 RBI, Garner hit .318 with 9 RBI and Bateman hit .367 with 11 RBI. Brattin was usually a DH spot in the lineup last season.

A crop of newcomers will also bolster the Bulldogs’ bullpen.

“Senior Grant Bradford hit .419 with 8 RBI in the fall,” Dermott said. “Grant played my first fall season here and was ineligible last spring to play. Having him will be big this year for us because he is a great hitter with a natural swing and will be big at the top of the lineup. He will pitch and play the corner spots in the infield for us. Junior Trenton Imel didn’t play last spring but has played two fall seasons for me. This last fall, Trenton really stepped up and surprised me. He hit the ball well, got on base, and has an edge to him. He will play second and have big expectations for him. Sophomore Michael Hang was newer to baseball last spring. He picked it up really quick and is a really coachable kid. Last spring, he pinch ran a lot and was one of the team leaders in stolen bases without hav- ing an everyday spot. He is one of the best athletes on the team and will do it all for me this spring. He will play CF, SS, and pitch as well. Sophomore Hayden Royer played for me for the first time this last fall. He worked hard and did what was asked of him and came on late in the season. He went from a bench/role player to hitting cleanup and pitching for us. His growth is really exciting to see.

“Sophomore Preston Johnson has played a couple of seasons for me now and will play RF and pitch. He has a great arm and is constantly getting better at the plate. He has become a really reliable outfielder for me. Houston Roller, FR. His first year playing for me and has come in and competed really well for his age. Houston will DH and play some LF for us. We are very excited about his potential and where he can end up. Sophomore Blake Morgan has predominantly played basketball and ran track. He is new to baseball this year and I’ve already been excited about how much he continues to grow. He will pitch for us this year and rotate in the outfield depending on who is on the mound.”

Demott said although they are young, the Bulldogs are deep this season.

“Our lineup both offensively and defensively will be deep,” he said. “We are going to have about 12 or 13 guys that will battle for varsity time and spots. Typically, I haven’t had that as a problem, but this will be a great problem to have. The 1-9 in our batting order we have a great mix of contact, speed and some pop. Our lineup on the defensive end is so multiple and we have so many guys that can play a couple of spots. That flexibility will allow us to have multiple lineups on a given night and ride hot hands as we go through- out the season.”

Dermott said the challenge this season will likely come on the mound, as pitching is a weakness.

“Our biggest weakness will be that we have to be able to have guys that fill up the zone and compete on the mound and throw strikes,” Dermott said. “We have around eight arms that I know that can throw. Throwing and pitching are two different things. If we can develop some consistency with our staff, we can go a lot farther than most probably think we can. Along those same lines, defensively we have to cut down on our own errors to help our pitchers out. We lost five games last spring by 1 or 2 runs. All of those close losses have the same thing in common, an error that led to a bigger inning and we weren’t able to redeem ourselves. This spring we have to switch some of those games over in our favor to be successful.”

Dermott said with the way the team has formed, it is shaping up for an exciting season, especially in the Ozark 7 Conference.

“Conference for us this year will be extremely competitive,” Dermott said. “Every conference opponent is at the same level, and I expect all of the games to be hard fought. We can compete with everyone, it will come down to who makes few- er self-inflicted wounds. The boys want to compete for a conference title and that will be major focus for us this year. All of the conference games we play at home, like McAuley Catholic, Exeter, College Heights and Verona, will be really good games.

“I’m very excited about the potential of this group. We can have a successful season if we can limit our errors and mistakes. We’ve got to battle and be men- tally stronger as a group to overcome the mentality that has developed over the years. Losing isn’t fun, and to see some shifts begin to happen is exciting for the program.”

Wheaton started the season with a pair of losses, 8-0 to Sparta and 12-3 to Blue Eye, at the Exeter Tournament on Friday. The Bulldogs return home Thursday to host Blue Eye for the first home game of the season.

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