By Derek Shore
Head Coach: Garry Highfill
2015-16 Record: 18-14 W-L (4-3 in COC-Large play) – Beat Neosho for the Class 5, District 12 title before losing to Nixa in sectionals
Top Players: Tanner Lane (LHP), Channing Mickey (OF), Trey Gibson (C), Chris Wallace, Tanner Jones (INF/OF), Caleb Ensminger (1B), Tyler Martin (LHP), Will Larson (SS), and Jake Lemmey (INF/P)
When combining solid pitching and a strong defense, it bodes well for success on the diamond.
And the Webb City Cardinals (18-14 overall record) got just that at the right time last spring, helping them repeat as Class 5, District 12 Champions before eventually losing to Nixa in the sectional game.
From last year, the Cardinals graduated four starters and seven lettermen in all, including former Central Ozark Conference Pitcher of the Year and 1st-team All-COC infielder Calem Nutting (NEO), all-conference infielders Dack Sanborn (Labette) and Andrew Greek as well as lefty Derick Newby (Maple Woods).
With a new year comes a fresh outlook in the form of first-year head coach Garry Highfill, who’s expected to return 11 lettermen and four starters.
Of those returnees, Tanner Lane will headline the front of the rotation for the Red, White, and Blue. Lane, a Fort Scott Community College commit, went 5-1 with a 3.47 ERA over 44 1/3 innings, throwing in the high 70s topping 80 mph with a curveball and changeup.
“Tanner gets on the mound and competes,” Highfill said. “He will be a big part of the success of this team.”
Perhaps the biggest will be the return of senior infielder Channing Mickey, who is the only returning all-conference player from last year when he posted a .327 average with 18 extra-base hits, 35 RBI, and stole nine bags. Highfill looks for Mickey to provide power in the middle of the lineup.
Webb City will also welcome back seniors Trey Gibson, Chris Wallace, Tanner Jones, and Caleb Ensminger.
Gibson, a catcher, batted .310 with three doubles, 27 total hits, and 13 runs driven in last year.
“Trey will provide leadership for our pitching staff this spring,” Highfill said. “He is a very smart catcher and works as hard as any player I’ve been around.”
Wallace hit .358 with 24 hits and 12 RBI last season as a junior for the Cardinals as well. His coach said, “Chris is just one of those players that finds ways to get on base. He has been working hard this offseason, and we expect good things out of him again this year.”
Highfill expects Jones, who contributed as an outfielder last year, will switch back to the infield this season. Ensminger, a Harding University commit, comes off an injury last spring and is expected for big things by his peers.
Among the newcomers, junior Tyler Martin is the most prominent with his commitment to play baseball at Nebraska. Martin, a 6-foot-2 left-handed pitcher, is said to throw in the low-to-mid 80s with a curve and change as well.
“Tyler burst onto the scene last summer playing with the Midwest Nationals,” Highfill said. “He is one of the hardest working guys on our team, and we are excited about what he brings to our pitching staff.”
Missouri Southern commit Jake Lammey will also contribute for the Cardinals, playing third base and throwing off the mound in his senior campaign while junior shortstop Will Larson rounds out the newcomers.
“Will is a dynamic player that will lead off for us and play shortstop,” Highfill said. “He made great strides last summer and has a chance to be a factor in the COC.”
Competing in the COC-Large is no easy task, with the likes of Nixa, Ozark, Republic, Willard, Branson, and Carl Junction vying for a championship each spring. With high expectations, Highfill has beefed up the schedule this year with matchups against Battle, Columbia Rock Bridge, and defending Class 5 state champions Francis Howell to prepare them come district time.
“The coaching staff has placed a high expectation on this group and expect a lot from our seniors in leadership roles,” he said. “We’re learning the value of hard work and showing up every day ready to play. We hope to compete with the top teams in our conference, and like everyone else, we are setting our sights on playing in June.”
Webb City opens the season in the Lael Lead-Off Tournament in Branson against Logan-Rogersville on Sat., Mar. 18.