Bulldogs bring ‘sneaky good’ potential

BY KYLE TROUTMAN ktroutman@cassville-democrat.com

With six returning starters taking to the diamond for Wheaton this season, Bulldogs Baseball Coach Tucker Dermott said this year is one of the most promising for his squad to be “sneaky good.”

Excited for Wheaton’s positional and lineup versatility, as well as its pitching depth and experience, Dermott said the Bulldogs have a lot of players up for spots who can play anywhere.

“Being a small team in the past, I’ve had to make it work because of our lack of depth,” he said. “This year, we can be very varied with what we have. One through nine, we will be a lot better than past years.

“Our pitching depth is also important because I have a few seniors who pitch, but all of my younger players can pitch and had to in the fall for us. I’m excited to have more than just 3-4 pitchers to try and get us through a full season.”

The Bulldogs will rely on a senior quartet for leadership this season: third baseman and pitcher Hayden Royer, utility Devin Bateman, infielder and pitcher Camren Brattin and centerfielder Fernando Gonzalez.

“Hayden is a great example of what a student-athlete should be,” Dermott said. “Academically, he is extremely bright and is active in FFA as the chapter president. He has a bright future ahead of him and leads by example and will consistently do what is right both on and off the field. Devin has been a consistent performer/ starter since he was a freshman. We will need him to be gritty and do the little things to help us win as well as be a jack of all trades and play all over the diamond, as well as a middleof- the-order bat.

“Camren has played every fall and spring season since he was a freshman. Defensively, he can play above average in every spot that I put him in. I will use him to fill in spots that we might be lacking and can do it all. Fernando is one of the best centerfielders I’ve seen. He can cover gap to gap with his speed and he went from not having played baseball before his sophomore year to becoming an All-Conference and All-District selection as a junior. We have 7 seniors and I could highlight all of them. They have been with me for a while and we will go as far as they take us.”

One of those seniors, Preston Johnson, will be a feature on the mound, and sophomore Riley Roller and freshman Brody Bateman will also see time pitching.

“Preston has a three-quarter release that can be deceptive at times with a big curveball and a good fastball,” Dermott said. “Locating consistently will be the biggest thing for him. Has been a starting pitcher for three years. Riley has a fantastic feel for off-speed and understands how to locate and pitch. Brody has a great arm and has great velocity and as a freshman, had the best ERA and pitched in bigger games for us.”

Bateman and sophomore Evan Pyle will be on the other end of the toss, but the catcher position is not set in stone.

“Catcher will be an interesting spot,” Dermott said. “I have depth and guys that have experience behind the plate. The position will be determined by who we have to fill out other spots and who is on the mound changes what we do. However, Devin has the most experience and is the most likely to be our backstop.”

Even with seven seniors on the team, Dermott said his underclassmen have the potential to contribute.

“I have a young group of freshmen — Brody Bateman, Logan Brattin, Mitchell Shockley, and Bodie Lauderdale — that got some really valuable time in the fall and have proved to me they can fill the spots (and even take some) that we have open,” he said. “They all have bright futures and can have a lot of success throughout their careers. They have a lot on their plate this year, but they can contribute now and that will be important for our season this year.”

To find success, Dermott said the Bulldogs will have to focus on fundamentals and taking care of what they can control.

“Defensively, it will be vital that we limit errors and help our pitching staff,” he said. “If the pitching staff performs to the level that they are capable of, we have to make sure we back them up and always give ourselves a chance.

“I want us to be reliant on pitching and defense. Being solid defensively can win a lot of games and always give you a chance in games. I want us to play hard and the right way and do all of the little things that you need to be successful.”

Dermott said he’s optimistic for the spring season and Wheaton seeing success after a 1-18 campaign in 2023.

“I enjoy the group that I’m going to get to coach and I’m ready to go to work with them,” he said. “I think that we can be a sneaky good team this year. We are adding to what we had in the fall, and I think that we will compete with anyone this spring.”

The Bulldogs are 0-3 to start the season with losses to Galena at home, 13-3, and to Exeter, 9-2, and Blue Eye, 16-15, in the Exeter Baseball Tournament.

Wheaton returns home on Thursday for a rematch with Blue Eye at 5 p.m.

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