Tigers ready to reload after first district title

The Exeter baseball team recorded the most wins in a season since at least 2010, and the game that pushed the Tigers over the hump was a Class 1, District 5 championship win over Billings, the first district title in Exeter history.

Matt Tripp, Exeter baseball coach, said there was not much more he could have asked from The Tigers (15-9) this season.

“Personally, what I looked at for a team goal was a district championship because w’eve been so close so many times,” Tripp said. “We had a very quality season, and to add the district win on top of that made it a successful season.”

Tripp said over the course of the season, the team remained solid, progressively improving in all areas of the game skill-wise. Mentally, however, Tripp said he saw a shift this season that has been building in the program.

“Over the course of my tenure at Exeter, the teams have always been good, but the confidence level may be up and down or not where it needs to be,” he said. “Coming into the spring without having a kid who may have been our best pitcher, as he decided not to play, the whole season could have been melodramatic about who was doing what or playing or not — but no one worried about that. They made the best of it and were steady. Even after a subpar performance, we were never down. We just got our heads screwed back on straight and went back to work.”

The Tigers won 8 of their last 10 games. One of the losses was a forfeit, and the other was to Lockwood in sectional play, 3-2. A regular-season game that will stick in the Tigers’ memories is the win over a cross-county rival, Purdy.

The last win over the Eagles in the spring, and the only recorded win via MSHSAA, was 13 years ago, a 12-11 victory in the Sarcoxie Tournament.

“Since I have been at Exeter, we’d never beaten Purdy,” Tripp said. “We beat them in the fall, but the kids would say, that’s just the fall. For us to beat them in the spring was a big win for us.

“We’ve been back-and-forth with Southwest over the years, but Purdy was a holdout, and it was great to get that win.”

That victory was 12 days prior to the district championship, which the Tigers won 4-3. Down by 2 early and trailing 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh in the Class 1, District 5 title bout, the Tigers plated a pair of runs and brought the game to a final out. A mid-range fly ball tested right fielder Kronikel Lokot, but the senior snagged the catch to win Exeter its first district championship in history.

“That was such a tight game, and the last time we lost the championship was against Billings in Hurley, 4-3,” Tripp said. “It was a wonderful game, one we will all remember for a very long time.” A large part of Exeter’s success this season, Tripp said, were the three seniors no the squad: pitcher Zach Lee, first baseman Morgan Zinn and outfielder Kronikel Lokot.

“They played the roles they should have, and that does not always happen,” Tripp said. “Sometimes, a senior might take a leadership role just because he is a senior, but it may not be what’s best for the team. But this year, one of our best hitters, one of our best fielders and one of our best pitchers had a perfect ending to their careers.

“Kronikel took a leadership role of support, not having to be showy or in the middle of the lineup. Morgan showed beautiful leadership through his example and not juts quitting. Last year, he was not even sure if he’d play his senior year, and he was our second-best hitter and one of the best first basemen I have ever coached. All our seniors demonstrated different ways a player can help the team.”

Losing only three seniors, the Tigers are looking to reload next season, and they have the staff to do it.

“We will have another great year of leadership with our senior catcher and former conference Player of the Year, Kason Nelson,” Tripp said. “He’s one of the best catchers in the area, and maybe the state. We have another pitcher who didn’t play his junior year but is coming back for his senior year, and to have him back will be huge. And, our pitcher who ended up with the best stats, Cason Antle, gave up zero earned runs in five innings at the sectional. He’s a beast and fun to watch.

“We also have a large freshman class. This year, a couple came through for us, and next year, we’ll have about three that can help us greatly.”

With so much talent returning, Tripp has confidence it will be an exciting 2025.

“Not having to switch a lot around, and knowing our holes to fill, will help us from the get-go,” Tripp said. “We never set goals in stone until after the fall, but I think we will want our fifth conference championship, which will not be easy but we can do it, and I believe we can take the district again.

“Sectionals could also be in our hand, then it’s pretty much a crap shoot after that because of the level of talent.”

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